Filed under: Fleishman-Hillard Blogs
The Benjamin Franklin quote above is increasingly becoming true, even to the old ‘certainty’ in the EU that common tax policies – demanding unanimous decision-making between Member States – will only move at glacier speed through the negotiations.
Corporate taxation currently features big on the European policy agenda, and is unlikely to lose ground any time soon. A combination of heightened media attention, revelations of tax evasion through Luxleaks or Panama Papers, budgetary constraints in many countries and increased awareness by the public have created unprecedented momentum for a more coordinated EU corporate tax policy.
The undeniable truth (?) of the Hart quote notwithstanding, this opportunity to be civilised in itself comes at a prize. The changes to tax rules that already have been and will be discussed have the potential to substantively impact how businesses pay and report taxes, how the companies are structured and not only how they do tax planning, but how they do business as such, in Europe.
Rules on interest deduction limitations, hybrid mismatches and controlled foreign companies, whilst seemingly ‘just’ an implementation of OECD guidelines might have further reaching consequences than any parties imagined when these issues where negotiated – in the context of voluntary guidelines – at the august Paris based institution.
In parallel, companies’ own corporate taxation policies are increasingly scrutinized by the public, with possible impact on reputation and side-effects on the ability to influence public policy not limited to taxation – and with layers to be further applied, if the Commission’s proposal on public country-by-country reporting gets tailwind through legislative negotiations.
Nevertheless… the time for thinking of EU tax policy is now! Work on greater harmonization of corporate taxation rules in the EU and to close loopholes stemming from different national tax laws is on full throttle as no EU government – or anyone else for that matter – wants to be seen as blocking the crack down on tax evasion. And rightly so!
Automatic exchange of tax rulings between EU Member States’ tax authorities and sharing detailed information on companies’ revenues, profits and taxes paid have already been agreed on – in both cases within only a few months after publication of the Commission’s legislative proposal.
Currently, EU countries – pushed forward by the ambitious Dutch Council Presidency – are working hard on the abovementioned issues of the anti-tax avoidance to tackle base erosion and profit shifting – where substantive changes to interest deductibility or hybrid mismatches are expected to be agreed on soon. A new proposal to increase tax transparency of multinational companies has also just been brought forward and later this year more work on a harmonized EU corporate tax base is expected.
But whilst the pace in acting affirmatively towards tax avoidance is laudable, the speed of the legislative process – leaving only a narrow window for the business community and experts to provide input – entails the risk that whilst the starting point and pace was benevolent and laudable, the end result might lead to unwarranted damages – as is always the risk, when regulation is hastened forward.
May 4, 2016
For Brits with an interest in public policy and the UK’s place in the world, 2016 will inevitably be overshadowed by the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Whilst the political debate in the UK is currently dominated by issues of migration and benefits, it’s worth taking a step back and considering the potential impact of a ‘Brexit’ in specific industry and policy areas, beyond the wider issue of the UK’s access to the single European market.
EU and UK energy and climate policy are currently locked together
Energy and climate policy in particular poses some interesting questions in the case of a Brexit. Not least because of the domestic climate legislation that binds the UK to a similar emissions reductions trajectory to the EU, and the gas and electricity interconnectors that physically connect the UK to the EU single energy market. Considering the broad swathe of energy and climate policy that binds the UK to the EU, it is far from clear in the case of a Brexit which of these policies, or parts thereof, the UK would not continue to be heavily involved in.
Climate policy – domestic policy first and foremost?
Looking at climate policy, the real changes that leaving the EU would mean for the UK seem fairly limited. As noted above, the UK’s own Climate Change Act means that British governments are bound domestically to cut emissions in at least a similar trajectory to the EU’s 2020 and 2030 GHG targets. Even in the case of a Brexit, it’s difficult to see how the UK would not wish to utilise an emissions trading system (ETS) – whether it’s the EU ETS, or a separate UK system that would likely be linked to the EU one. Putting aside the impact on hard policy, there is of course the question of influence. A UK outside of the EU would conceivably have lower levels of influence on wider international climate negotiations.
Energy policy – an area that seems obvious for cross-border co-operation
Concerning energy policy, it is difficult to find areas where post-Brexit, the UK would not want to co-operate with its neighbours. Take the example of Gas security of supply. Following the 2009 gas crisis, the EU constructed a set of rules to govern emergency situations, by ensuring that countries work with their neighbours to develop emergency and preventative action plans. Presumably, this is an area that a British government outside of the EU would still wish to engage in with its neighbours in Ireland, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Of course they could try to do so outside of the EU framework, but the plans they would seek to agree with their neighbours would still be constructed under the EU mechanisms, so in all likelihood – for ease of implementation – so would the UK’s.
The internal energy market
Perhaps the major issue of course is the internal energy market where the UK has been instrumental in pushing for an increasingly liberalised energy market, greater competition and cross-border trading. An increasing proportion of the UK’s electricity capacity will be reliant on the electricity interconnectors going under the Channel and North Sea. These interconnectors will at least partially be controlled by the EU’s Third Internal market package where they are located in an EU member state, and are likely to have an increasingly important contribution to the UK’s overall capacity and security of supply. Even if the UK left the EU completely (the WTO-only option), something like 10% of our overall electricity capacity by 2020 would effectively be under the control of EU market rules. In the short-term there might be a limited impact – the interconnectors and the market would continue to function – but over a longer-period, there would be nothing to prevent a divergence of policy between the UK and the EU, potentially impacting on the functioning and the commercial viability of the interconnectors. In this scenario, a UK outside of the EU would have no control over the outcome of such policy developments.
Bearing in mind the influence of the UK in developing the single energy market so far (plus the influence of actors such as Ofgem and National Grid at an EU-level), a future EU energy market without the UK could look very different to the one developing now. As Amber Rudd, the UK’s Secretary of State for energy and climate change noted in early January on the issue of Brexit and the possibility of the UK leaving the EU, “We are probably the largest influencer in terms of setting out the plan and delivering on the energy market. So we can’t help shape it – shape it in the best way for the UK consumer and UK businesses. That would be a loss because you would be going into an area of uncertainty.”
It would also remove the UK’s voice from discussions where historically it has been very strong – a good example of this being the 2012 Offshore Drilling Safety directive, proposed following the Macondo accident. The Commission originally proposed a directly applicable regulation which could have had significant impacts on the post-Piper Alpha North Sea safety standards – which were widely viewed as the global gold standard. The UK, working with allies in the Netherlands and Denmark, ensured that instead, a directive was agreed that would enable those Member States with an effective system already to continue on that basis, avoiding unnecessary costs and disruption in the North Sea.
Renewable energy targets
Of course, there is the question of renewable energy targets. It would be difficult to argue that technology specific targets are particularly popular with any British policymakers – but given the UK’s success in 2014 in working to move the 2030 target system away from any binding national targets for renewables and energy efficiency, the UK has already achieved its aim in changing the system to a much more flexible one, so would have little to gain from being outside the 2030 system.
Policymaker to policy taker?
Either way, when thinking about Brexit and energy and climate policy there are real questions to be answered – both in terms of what the UK would seek to leave, and where the benefits would be. In both a WTO-only situation or a Swiss/Norway style solution, the UK could move from being (one of the most important) policymakers to the policy taker. Other alternative models that would allow the UK to access and influence the internal energy market whilst not being in the EU, are yet to be elaborated upon and raise serious questions of viability.
Published by Matt Hinde
January 11, 2016
The new Circular Economy package includes no fewer than 54 legislative and non-legislative actions to be completed in the next years with a view to “close the loop” of product lifecycles and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy. To help you understand how the actions interact and their impact on business, we have mapped all of them for you.
Time will tell us whether the EU can actually deliver on Circular Economy and beyond, on Better Regulation. Let’s not forget indeed that this package is one of the most striking examples of the Commission’s efforts to make its services work together and turn the Better Regulation agenda into reality.
Are higher recycling targets more ambitious?
The Circular Economy package’s legislative proposals mainly focus on reducing waste and establishing targets. Whilst the Action Plan has been generally positively welcomed by different groups, the lowering of some of the waste reduction, reuse and recycling targets – compared to the 2014 withdrawn proposal – has already been criticized by some as being “not ambitious”. And indeed, what better way for the EU to show strong commitment towards reducing and recycling waste than higher targets?
Things may however be slightly more complex. Taking into account the significant differences that exist between Member States, one could also question whether setting higher targets would be realistic and, perhaps more importantly, the most effective way to actually reduce waste and improve waste management in Europe. With its new package, the Commission seems to have followed the latter reasoning. First, the waste proposals show that ambition can be served by more than higher targets. Improving EPR schemes and acknowledging that a few Member States may need more time to deliver are just a few examples. Second, it is not only about waste as most proposed actions support a long-term strategy that addresses the full product cycle.
Does it close the loop?
Whereas the previous Circular Economy proposal from 2014 was criticized for being too much “waste-focused”, ultimately leading to its withdrawal, the Commission has clearly taken a more holistic approach by working across a number of different policy areas. The Action Plan for the Circular Economy establishes a novel programme with measures covering the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management. No fewer than 54 legislative and non-legislative actions are foreseen to be completed in the next years with a view to “close the loop” of product lifecycles and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy.
On paper then, the Commission has delivered. Will these actions ever come to reality and more importantly will they contribute to building a new socio-economic model everyone seems to be calling for? Time will tell us whether the Commission will keep the same momentum and circular economy is more than another buzz word in the EU bubble.
First hints from the Parliament and the Council
As codecision is about to start on the waste proposals, the European Parliament and the Council already gave us a taste of how discussions could look like. In the Parliament, it looks like the EPP and the S&D will be able to work together. While we should of course expect disagreements of several specific points, both groups have stated that the package constitutes a good starting point. The Greens however, and some voices in the ALDE group, have unsurprisingly expressed more disappointment. Meanwhile in the Council, Member States have welcomed the package. When reacting to Commissioner Vella’s presentation though, criticism appeared. The UK raised concerns about not only the role and ambition-level of the targets, but also over the differentiated targets. Sweden, on the other hand, questioned the ambitiousness of the package and stated that Substances of Very High Concern need to be phased-out and called for a landfill ban. Italy responded in a more technical manner and asked for clarification on the definition of waste and the methods for calculating urban waste and recycling targets.
The ambitious programme of actions will now have to be executed in the next few years. The annex to the action plan sets out a timeline showing when we can expect the Commission to get started on each action. Clearly, timing is not as precise as it could (should) be. One thing is very clear though: 2016 is a critical milestone for Circular Economy. It is next year that a significant amount of the activities will be kicked off, covering all stages of the product lifecycle as well as various sectorial actions.
By Lara Visser, Pauline Tawil and Malte Helligsoe
December 17, 2015
Will EU Institutions next Monday (7 December), as it gives birth to a network and information security (NIS) directive, run the risk of fragmentation and adding more red tape in an effort to help build minimum resilience capabilities and common rules for incident reporting?
Cybersecurity is a comprehensive concept that encompasses several different dimensions of information security. It spans from consumer education to information sharing and even more complex issues such as critical information infrastructure protection and the fight against cybercrime and cyber-terrorism. It also plays a major role in defense and national security matters, yet the latter are not regulated by the EU, as competence falls exclusively with Member States. Yet when we speak about cybersecurity, the key word is “trust” – key for promoting information sharing, technical cooperation and exchange of best practices at international and at multi-stakeholder level.
The EU agenda on cybersecurity has undergone a two-step of evolution. Before 2013, the EU was merely interested in the topic and was handling it by “patch-working” sectoral legislations. The first comprehensive EU communication on cybersecurity came with the publication of the NIS directive, just months before Edward Snowden’s revelations on the US government surveillance programs.
Since then, the interest in Brussels on the subject has increased exponentially, as decision-makers have understood the need for urgent action. But as the draft bill now enters its final phase, an open question is who exactly will be obliged to report incidents, and under what conditions? Besides critical infrastructures, the EU institutions have agreed to expand the scope to “digital service providers” (e-commerce platforms, cloud computing services, search engines and others), and, while modalities for the former group are already defined, it is quite the opposite for the latter. Moreover, the issue of fragmentation appeared, as Member States obtained during the interinstitutional talks the privilege of identifying nationally which critical operators should comply with the bill.
Another issue is how this new legislation would avoid overlaps with existing rules. While the text foresees an article on the matter, the latest Parliament proposals suggest that such duplications should be avoided for “sector-specific legislations”. It is questionable whether horizontal legislations, such as the expected general data protection regulation, would fall under this definition. The risk is that, if an incident on the network involves a data breach, the operator would have to equally report to the cyber-relevant authorities and to the data protection authorities – a mess with regards to technical and business operations, and an increased risk when it comes to compliance.
Finally, as the Commission took a new legislative shift in focusing on delivering “less and better regulation”, it is questionable to what extent a fragmented directive would fit this policy agenda. The process reminds me of a comment shared with me by a global security expert who said, “unfortunately, when it comes to cybersecurity, the interest exceeds the understanding”. I hope policymakers take the initiative to resolve these issues and prove him wrong.
Next Monday, Member States and Parliament will be responsible not only for finalizing this new bill, but also for guiding the Commission in its 2016 agenda on cybersecurity, as defined in the Digital Single Market strategy. For further details, have a look at the comprehensive DSM timeline developed by FleishmanHillard’s technology team.
December 3, 2015
“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions,” said Peter Drucker, the father of management consulting. Had we met Mr Drucker we’d probably have asked him “what are the right questions to ask in order to become a good consultant to our clients?” Unfortunately for us, Peter Drucker passed away 10 years ago – fortunately, FleishmanHillard organises the “FH Fundamentals” training every six months for young consultants from all over the EMEA region to get to know each other and further familiarise themselves with the values that make FH the best communications agency in the world.
The latest generation of “FH Fundamentalists” from Brussels, London, Paris, & Milan
But let’s cut to the chase – what are the five questions a communications and public affairs consultant should ask himself or herself in order to provide its clients with the best services?
- Do I have enough “face time” with my clients? Even if one works day and night on an account spending time face-to-face with their client will enrich the relationship and will enable to address issues that are to “sensitive” to be discussed over email.
- I am thinking creatively about my account? Beyond the day-to-day tasks it is very important to shake the status quo and present your clients with new ideas. All ideas are good – may they be big or small. At FleishmanHillard, we try to present our clients with one new idea a month – ambitious? Not at all, considering the diversity of expertise we have in our office.
- Is Twitter the be all and end all of communications channels? Not at all! Once our client’s communications objectives and messaging is approved there are a wide range of channels to disseminate messages in order to target the right audience. Think creatively – all your money doesn’t have to go to full page ads in media and all your energy doesn’t need to focus on advertorials!
- Is measuring results necessary? Yes – our clients are constantly connected and want to feel in control of the information they receive. Hence, measuring results is paramount to developing productive relationships with them. However, all measurement is not good measurement. Our objectives need to be clear and mutually agreed from the very beginning and data should be analysed in a relevant way to fit the client’s business and advocacy objectives.
- I’m a young consultant – does this mean I should be terrified of presentations? Quite the opposite! Make sure you know what your role is; don’t read out a script (last time someone read you a story was probably your mother trying to send you to sleep); focus on the audience’s needs; keep eye contact with EVERYONE in the room; interact with your audience by asking questions – and above all REHEARSE. Assuming you know your subject, simple steps are the key to minimizing the pre-presentation stress.
In the FH pyramid of training FH Fundamentals is the basis – as we know the basis is the most important part; it ensures stability. And for communications consultants having good bases is key to understanding our clients’ needs. We may have not drunk from the Holy Grail however we did ask ourselves some questions about our current accounts – now it’s up our managers to embrace our improved selves!
Immavera & Adrien working on their mock pitch with colleagues from London and Munich
Building on Peter Drucker’s inspiring quotes, we too would like to contribute to the Consultant Hall of famous quotes, with a somewhat more impertinent twist to it.
For instance, young FH consultants like to say: “My colleagues are my best friends and my family at the same time.” What we mean: “I spend more time with my colleagues than with my friends and family combined.” Also heard: “I feel privileged to be exposed to such a high degree of expertise on a daily basis.” What that young and dynamic FH consultant actually means: “I can speak in acronyms for hours on end without ever feeling the need to rely on actual words.”
The latest “FH Fundamentalists”, Immavera Sardone, Ilektra Tsakalidou, and Adrien Rorive
November 2, 2015
This is the “last chance” Commission…
This dramatic statement was pronounced by Jean-Claude Juncker in October 2014 to Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, during his formal presentation of the College of Commissioners and their proposed 2016-2020 programme.
Juncker to deliver his first ever SOTEU!
On Wednesday 9 September, Jean-Claude Juncker will head back into the Strasbourg hemicycle for his first ever speech on the so-called State of the European Union (or SOTEU). Although not as eagerly expected by citizens and the media as the original USA version, the SOTEU address has become a major milestone in EU politics since it was first launched by former President Barroso in 2008.
As the SOTEU traditionally addresses the EU’s key challenges and provides an opportunity to introduce major policy initiatives, President Juncker is expected to present his main accomplishments from his first year at the helm of the European Commission, as well as lay out his vision to address the burning issues that the EU is currently facing.
In front of him will sit a full parliament of Members who have shown signs of dissatisfaction with their once favourite candidate, their “spitzenkandidat”. Juncker indeed secured his appointment in large part thanks to the support of the European Parliament. A year later, after mostly focusing on Council matters such as Greece and the migration crisis, some might say that the European Parliament has been left in a vacuum with too little legislative work to do. To soften critics, Juncker will have to deliver a balanced speech, calling on all institutions to cooperate for the sake of the future of the EU.
FH Stethoscopes and tweezers to the ready – It’s time to play ‘Operation Europe’
The EU seems in no better shape than last year, and Juncker will need to convincingly perform a series of highly delicate operations to heal the life-threatening conditions Europe is currently fighting, including internal disorder, existing EU weaknesses and international conditions:
- The first year of the Juncker team in office has resulted in a sharp decrease in legislative files, most notably in areas such as sustainability and environmental issues, where the EU traditionally leads the way. Looking at the 2016 European Commission Work Programme, what’s at the forefront of Juncker’s thinking?
- Jobs and growth are the backbone of Juncker’s mandate. Will he use the speech to confirm that his Investment Plan has delivered on its promises, and has boosted Europe’s growth and created jobs? Although recent figures show that unemployment in the euro area is at its lowest since February 2012, is this trend looking set to continue, or will Juncker need to intervene further in order to succeed?
- Through his vision of a more dynamic and effective institution, Juncker has turned the European Commission into a very political animal. But does the European Commission have broad enough shoulders to deliver on its President’s promises?
- Juncker had already identified the “scores of immigrants” arriving at the gates of Europe as a major challenge. Recently calling for “collective courage”, Juncker is expected to present a new proposal that addresses the migration crisis, to show that Europe still has a heart and is willing to help those seeking a better life.
- As opponents continue to vilify TTIP, Juncker will need a lot of elbow grease to progress on negotiations and ensure that the EU remains a competitive trade partner globally.
- The Greek crisis is probably one of the only achievements of this Commission thus far. Although the euro zone Member States have been slapped on the wrist for allowing Greece into the euro zone in the first place and lost credibility for endless “absolute final last possible chance before ultimate and irrevocable catastrophe Councils” to avoid a ‘Grexit’, it seems Juncker’s former role as President of the Eurogroup has paid off in so far avoiding a ‘Grexit’. However, as the Greek crisis is far from being resolved, how will Juncker address the issue moving forward?
- The European Union will rise and speak as one at the Paris Climate conference (COP21) next November. Criticisms concerning the low level of ambition for the conference are increasing, as are fears that COP21 will fail. If the EU wants to breathe life into the climate change debate, courageous proposals need to be made.
- Recent attacks on European soil and the rise of ISIS in the Middle-East have led Juncker to propose reinforced cooperation mechanisms to protect European citizens. Will the European Commission manage to convince EU Member States to have the stomach to work together?
- Juncker is not expected to go into the details of specific EU policies, however the promises of an EU Digital Single Market (DSM) regarding jobs and growth are too important not to mention. DSM and Juncker’s future legacy are joined at the hip.
- The EU cannot be navel-gazing and has to play a central role in international foreign affairs. From the Chinese economic slowdown to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Juncker will have to keep Europe from falling on its knees.
- President Juncker is unlikely to voluntarily touch upon Brexit, which feels like the sprained ankle of the EU… very painful and capable of making us fall any minute. However far right Members of the European Parliament might push Juncker on the issue, aiming to show once again that the EU is on the brink of toppling over.
The SOTEU address will give us a sense of the current mood within the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as an understanding of what Juncker deems his main achievements are so far.
We will closely watch Dr. Juncker perform all these sensitive operations, following the live debate from the EP and online and will regularly take the pulse of our European patient. Follow us on Twitter (@fleishmanEU) to find out how Dr. Juncker is doing fixing patient Europe!
The Institutional Research Unit
September 8, 2015
Every year the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA) organises an essay contest for young Public Affairs professionals to discuss a topic of relevance to the industry. This year, EPACA wanted to know participants’ ideas on how to improve public trust in EU public affairs. A question key to Public Affairs professionals and which makes us rethink our relation to and responsibility towards a critical actor in European politics: the European people.
After all, EU citizens remain the pillar of the European Union. Their voice, whether it is dimmed or amplified by their national and European representatives, remains the fundamental source of legitimacy for any politician and stakeholder involved in politics. Indeed, without a certain level of approval from the European general public, individuals or organisations who want to impact on EU affairs loses significant support and credibility; and the more those are lost at the bottom, the more limited the effect at the top will be. Hence why public trust in EU public affairs is so critical, and why it is essential for businesses to keep thinking about what it takes to ensure and improve it. Our research executive Anne Sauviat was the winner of the EPACA Essay Competition and provided some answers to this challenging but crucial question.
How to improve public trust in EU public affairs?
To what extent are EU public affairs public? Which ‘public’ is actually encompassed under such appellation? These are important questions when thinking about the issue of public trust in EU public affairs for a reason: trust comes from a feeling of inclusion, which itself encompasses both a physical and symbolic dimension.
Apathy and skepticism have increasingly taken over public opinion on European politics. This mistrust is notably due to Europeans feeling alienated from a political environment and process they expect to be integral to. Yet, many perceive European politics as unreachable and incomprehensible conversations between political, economic and industrial elites. In this context, public affairs consultancies mainly appear as illegitimate intermediaries influencing EU politicians for private stakeholders ‘ interests.
Thus, building trust in EU public affairs necessitates overcoming the negative connotation they often assume. The notion and activity of lobbying should be brought back to its original meaning and purpose: providing decision-makers with practical information on topics they are not necessarily fully aware of, and informing them of the demands from the various groups of the civil society they represent. European public affairs would be better acknowledged if they were given a more ‘positive’ definition and if their relevance for both public and private entities were promoted.
Public trust also relies on the transparency of the information and services exchanged by the various actors (in)directly involved in the European political process. Giving accessibility to such data helps the public better understand and confide in the reliability of politically-invested individuals and organisations.
Finally, beyond the status of witnesses, European citizens should be more extensively and actively included in the public affairs debates. The new methods of communication and wide range of social media can significantly contribute to the ‘re-democratisation’ of European public affairs and their relative re-appropriation by the general public.
May 28, 2015
2015 promises to be a year of change. With elections fast approaching in Finland, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, Poland and Ireland voters seem to want to reject the status quo. While everyone is talking about the Greek debt negotiations and the rise of Podemos in Spain, in the North of Europe, an important election has skipped many people’s radar.
Finland, Europe’s tough fiscal hawk, is likely to face a change of government after Sunday’s election. The change is likely to come about due to a slowing Finnish economy and what Prime Minister Alexander Stubb called a “lost decade” with recession entering into its third consecutive year, unemployment growing and competitiveness declining. Thus similar to other struggling economies in Europe, Finland is experiencing economic hardships which in the eyes of nearly all parties can only be resolved through harsh labour market reforms and fiscal austerity. In contrast, however, to the trend in the South where such policies led to public discontent and a steep increase in popular support for anti-EU parties, Finland is experiencing a revival of the established parties, while the Finnish anti-EU party, the Finns, however, is falling behind their landslide successes from the previous election in 2011.
Will they vote for anti-establishment?
Watch out – The Finns are coming…
Despite the decline in popularity of his anti-establishment party, Timo Soini, the Finn´s leader, might well end up on top as the winner of the Finnish election-dilemma as part of a coalition in a government led by the Central Party. To be more specific, in the event of an “equal” split of votes between the four largest parties (all four are polled to receive around 15%-25% of the votes), a coalition of three will need to be formed. While, the current governing parties have already turned down the idea of working together again, that would leave the Finns as the most likely alternative to become the third partner in a Central Party-led government.
Mr Juha Sipilä, the Central Party’s leader and likely to become Finland’s new Prime Minister currently leading with 24.9% of the votes, is not opposed to the idea so long as its partners agree with his political agenda. Not to mention that the current Prime Minister Alexander Stubb has reiterated that the Finns are much better than the reputation preceding them abroad, showing that he would also be open to support them as a coalition partner. As a result, anti-EU forces might find themselves in the Finnish government, despite the fact that voters are rallying around the established parties and support for reactionary parties is fading.
The Finn’s leader Timo Soini
… to Europe!
A coalition including the Central Party and the Finns is expected to be less pro-European as the current government. Mr Sipilä, though successful in business, is not renowned for his international experience and although his party might consider itself pro-European difficult compromises will need to be made with the Finns, who are opposing new bailout programmes, the Euro and further deepening of European relations.
In Brussels the event of a coalition between the Central Party, the conservative National Coalition Party and the Finns will mainly impact Finland’s position and negotiation leeway in the Council. Mr Sipilä’s hands in negotiations will be more tied than Mr Stubb’s or Mr Katainen’s have been. On the one hand he would have to demonstrate his support for a deeper EU to its European partners – to whom Finland will grow more and more economically dependent the longer sanctions against Russia prevail. On the other, he would have to reassure his coalition partner Finland is maintaining high levels of sovereignty and remaining critical towards the Eurozone. In particular on the latter, however, Mr Sipilä demonstrate strength by continuing to back strict rules and austerity measures – policies that all Finnish parties support both for their own country and for Europe. Finland is therefore expected to remain “Europe’s fiscal hawk”. Moreover more than before Finland will be likely to defend EU disintegration positions and align itself to the UK defending sovereign interest and the principle of subsidiarity.
Anglo-Finnish cooperation is already well established in the European Parliament, where the Finns have joined the British-led European Conservatives and Reformists Group demonstrating a conservative yet mainstream political agenda. As the elections are likely to make Prime Minister Stubb’s party a junior coalition partner, we neither expect that the outcome will neither affect the focus of the National Coalition as part of the EPP nor workings of the Finnish Vice-President of the Commission Jyrki Katainen nor drastically change the focus of his political agenda in Europe.
All in all, the Finnish elections may not change the tone in Brussels tremendously on their own, but they will provide insights on how anti-establishment parties are likely to affect national politics and therefore affect London’s, Copenhagen’s, Berlin’s and Madrid’s positioning in Brussels.
Is Europe Finnish(ed)?
The Finnish “case study” is helpful in understanding and dealing with the fast growing support for anti-establishment movements across the Continent. In the North, Sweden, Denmark and Norway are watching closely as growing support for their respective populist parties is making it harder for their mainstream parties to continue ignoring them. While Norway is currently being led by a coalition of conservatives and the populist Progress party, the Sweden Democrats came third in the September 2014 elections in Sweden and Denmark’s Danish People’s Party is gaining influence and support before the upcoming elections in autumn.
In the Centre of Europe, the Finns’ positioning and agenda seem familiar to a still domestically unwelcome anti-Euro party in Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Bernd Lucke, the party’s leader, will eye developments in the North closely to assess whether the Finnish outcome might be a valuable example on how he could achieve his power aspirations in Germany.
In the South, Spain is also experiencing a similar trend with new anti-establishment parties, even though its popularity appears to be fading the closer we get to parliamentary elections in December. Podemos could grasp a large part of the votes, leaving no party with a majority to form a government.
Although anti-establishment parties are experiencing a slow in their popularity across Europe, all eyes will remain on them. The success of Podemos, Syriza, the Finns, the UK Independence Party and others will furthermore force the establishment to make concessions and re-orientate their position on a great variety of issues such as European integration, social, economic and fiscal policies.
While the traditional separation of power between centre-right and centre-left parties will continue to dominate Europe, anti-establishment parties are likely to make this election year way more thrilling and unpredictable than previous ones. Let’s see what happens!
We will keep you up-to-date with all our coverage of this election year with upcoming analysis of the UK and the consequences of a possible Brexit as well as following the election developments in Denmark, Portugal, Poland and Spain.
Martin Bresson, Joachim Wilcke, Ilektra Tsakalidou
April 17, 2015
Europe’s Judgement Day came on Monday, when Member State representatives, international health officials and medical experts met at The High Level Conference on Healthy Lifestyles held to discuss the state of childhood obesity in Europe. Are our children’s waistlines getting larger? Are existing initiatives helping us get healthy? What more do we need to do?
As in all conferences, papers and discussions about obesity, no clear cut answers were provided. While International Organization such as the WHO, OECD and EU Commission pointed to overwhelming amounts of data indicating the gravity of the obesity pandemic, Member States provided a number of enlightening examples of good practice, both at national and local level.
So how well are we actually doing?
The Commission and World Health Organization were fairly fatalistic.
John F. Ryan, a veteran of EU health policy and Director of the Public Health division at DGSANTE, noted that chronic diseases are responsible for 80% of deaths in Europe, hampering social cohesion and economic growth, despite being easily preventable. He called on the food and drink industry, NGOs, governments, parents and schools to help reduce childhood obesity by ensuring access to balanced and healthy meals and helping children engage in regular physical activity.
Dr Gauden Galea (Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases of the WHO) used similar language to explain the importance of creating healthy food and drink environments in schools, as well as incorporating more physical activity in the curricula and funding infrastructure for this to occur.
But is it all doom and gloom?
Member states portrayed the situation in a more positive light. Latvia, Estonia and Hungary presented their own projects to ensure free, healthy meals in schools. The common denominator was the setting of national standards which list a number of allowed or required products in school meals such as fruit and vegetables, while excluding all confectionary and sugary or fatty foods. Under regulation 610, the government of Latvia also restricted the marketing and distribution of salty snacks and sugary drinks in schools – bringing a 10% reduction in consumption. For more examples on the Estonian and Hungarian models, you can watch the presentations here.
And how significant are these initiatives?
The national food schemes presented at the conference seemed extremely similar to the prescriptions laid out in the WHO European Food and Nutrition Action Plan launched in 2014, which demands 4 (or in truth, 5) key policy changes:
- Implementing mandatory standards for school meals
- Providing nutritional education in schools
- Offering free fruit and vegetable schemes
- Imposing strong controls on the marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages in schools
- …as well as adopting initiative for physical activity.
Yet international organizations were all but satisfied. Dr Joao Breda of the WHO – who was defined throughout the conference as the guru on obesity policy – pointed to the strong disparity among schools even within single countries to conclude that more work needs to be done on the process of implementation – as also argued by Mr. Goof Buijs of the Schools for Health in Europe Network.
So if member states got a scolding, how did industry perform? It’s not looking good…
Although Stephan Loerke from the World Federation of Advertisers made a convincing argument to illustrate the value of industry efforts, it seems that there is a lack of trust in industry self-regulation among international organizations, and that industry commitments are deemed insufficient.
Stephan illustrated the efforts made under the European Platform for Action Diet, Physical Activity and Health to showcase industry’s proactive involvement. He reasoned that while the direct effect of marketing on children is only “modest”, as noted in most scientific literature, the food industry has recognized that marketing impacts family food choices, preferences and behaviours, and has therefore acted accordingly. Stephan mentioned the new initiative of the International Food and Beverage Alliance, due to come into force in 2016, which imposes thresholds for all marketing platforms, creates a single nutritional model to be used among all countries and bans the use of celebrity personalities.
In a final attempt at convincing his medical public, he decried the low levels of recognition for industry self-regulation… and he was certainly correct.
His most ardent critic was Tim Lobstein of the World Obesity Federation, who diplomatically defined the EU Pledge as not strong enough… to avoid using the term ‘useless’. He noted that, on marketing commitments, the 35% threshold of children watching television (which is necessary to prevent food promotion under the pledge) is very rarely reached. In addition, advergames such as on Nestle’s website are not included in the provision.
Even new developments were easily discarded. Lobstein mentioned that the new nutrient profiling system is still too lenient, especially on the threshold for salty snacks, such as crisps, and sugary products, including cereals. The WHO had other concerns, questioning whether third party auditing is reliable, with Joao Breda suggesting that the scientific community should be integrated in the monitoring of the commitments. He also called for the recently released WHO nutritional criteria for marketing to children to be taken into consideration.
Unfortunately, it seems that International Organizations will remain forever skeptical.
When asked what the biggest obstacle to an effective, coherent policy on obesity is today, Joao Breda pointed the finger at industry, saying that their influence on policy makers is to blame for the lack of effective policy measures being taken… a fairly simplistic answer for a guru, in this blogger’s opinion.
Nonetheless, the Commission was kinder in its approach. Philippe Roux, the head of Unit for Health Determinants at DGSANTE even praised the work of the EU Platform, noting that the commitments made under the EU Pledge (and specifically the responsible advertising measure which classifies schools as protected environments) have made an important difference.
Mr Artur Furtado from DGSANCO also adopted a more balanced position, taking into account the role of government structures in preventing effective policy measures. He claimed that changing representations prevent long term plans from being made and that government systems which separate policy provisions on health from agriculture and education inhibit the development of integrated and holistic solutions. His resounding message: there needs to be greater policy cohesion.
Since we’ve done pretty poorly, what’s next?
In line with the more market-oriented objectives of the new Commission, future work on healthy lifestyles will be aimed at abating health inequalities. The Commissioner has asked the private sector to do more on reformulation in the context of the EU Platform. Better mapping of Member State capabilities and resources to tackle obesity and endorse preventative measures also made the top of the to-do list.
However, the real shift in obesity policy will be a global move to a more comprehensive approach that takes into account the social and economic context of obesity prevention. Prescriptive approaches to obesity no longer make the cut. Providing information in terms of labelling is not a determinant to health in the same way that engaging in physical activity is not a determinant of active lifestyles.
Taking a more holistic approach which encompasses an understanding of how information shapes behavioral choices and how urban environments influence our levels of physical activity, will be crucial to tackling this problem of the modern age – a system has been defined as health in all policies.
Alessia Mortara and Lindsay Hammes
February 26, 2015
With a few days to go before the High Level Conference on Healthy Lifestyles called by the Latvian Presidency, delegates and experts will be making their way to Riga to enjoy a glass of Kvass before discussions begin.
The industry, for its part, awaits the conference’s verdict(s) with baited breath. Will certain products be targeted? Will reformulation need a boost? The answers (or lack thereof) will be revealed on Monday 23rd of February.
In the meantime, let’s recap where the discussion on nutrition and physical activity currently stands….
Let’s begin the story in early 2014, at the High Level conference hosted by the Greek Presidency. The Hellenic crowd focused on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among vulnerable populations including the elderly and, of course, children. Today, the Latvians have decided to hone the discussion down to the most important and most contentious of issues; one that Latvia’s Health Minister, Guntis Belēvičs, has described as the ‘taste of childhood’.
As is often the case with Council Presidencies, the decision to focus on childhood obesity reflects Latvia’s own public health aims. With obesity rates slightly above the European average, Latvia has implemented one of the most radical prevention schemes in the region. In 2006, the government limiting the distribution of foods containing additives, colourants, sweeteners and preservatives in schools, while also launching a National Sporting Development Program to increase physical activity among children.
But not all countries have endorsed the Latvian approach. With a wide variety of dietary styles and cultural particularities, defining a single, regionally applicable solution to obesity is all but simple. Nonetheless, the EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity, drawn up under the Greek Presidency will be used as a solid common ground on which to base the discussions and will act as a ‘guide for effective action’.
By 2020, the plan aims to help Member States achieve 6 core objectives, each associated to a number of precise targets :
- Support a healthy start in life
- Promote healthier environments, especially in schools
- Make the healthy option, the easier option
- Restrict marketing and advertising to children
- Inform and empower families
- Encourage physical activity
While the nominal purpose of the conference is to “assess the implementation progress of strategic documents on nutrition and physical activity in the EU”, measuring success will be done in true EU style. To avoid any pointing of fingers at high or low achievers, the agenda of the High Level Conference will focus on sharing best practice among member states – in full respect of subsidiarity and proportionality. We expect much chit chat on who did what and very little practical information.
However, some data does exist and it looks like Europe isn’t doing too badly. The WHO’s country reports reveal that 100% of Member States have adopted policies limiting the marketing of food and beverages to children and over 90% have acted on salt reduction. They’ll need to work a little harder on trans-fat reductions and physical activity recommendations, but there is reason to believe that Europe is moving in the right direction. The 2014 Health at a Glance report also noted that education to consumers, availability of healthy food options and encouraging physical activity are the strongest areas of progress.
Now one question remains: will current progress be enough? What further recommendations can be expected? In line with the Global Status of NCDs Report, it is likely that the WHO will demand stronger political engagement towards encouraging physical activity. This may happen through social marketing and mass media campaigns. Other recommendations could focus on the re-activation of the fruit and milk scheme, recently suspended by the Juncker Commission under its new Work Programme. Only time will tell…
Either way, we expect that the High Level Conference will directly influence the EPSCO preparatory meetings and the final Council Conclusions later this year. If we were academics we would ask… To what extent? Well, to the extent that scientific opinion is taken into account in EU policy making. While experts will likely call for the need for social involvement programmes of adequate dietary guidelines and of perfectly nutritious school meals, country budgets will still be limited, political and cultural approaches to food will still diverge and in the end… humans will be humans… and we do love our culinary delights!`
Our policy analysis on the conference will be coming soon … watch this space!
Alessia Mortara, Adriano Addis and Lindsay Hammes
February 19, 2015