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Operation Europe

Tue, 08/09/2015 - 09:56

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

Categories: European Union

European politics of gender equality: the mountain that gave birth to a mouse?

Thu, 13/08/2015 - 11:29

On paper, gender equality is high on the current EU agenda. In his 10 ‘Commandments’, President Juncker has committed to a more gender-balanced Commission; the European Parliament has maintained continued pressure on other institutions to present and adopt regulatory measures; and, just last week, Commissioner Jourova pledged to present a comprehensive legislative package on gender equality in 2016.

Source: Greens/European Free Alliance Group

This focus on gender equality shouldn’t come as a surprise; women can be the edge Europe needs to stay ahead in a competitive global setting.

There is a clear business case for more gender equality in the EU, with numerous studies showing the economic benefits for businesses in fostering diversity in senior positions – investors also care more and more about companies’ corporate and social responsibility performance. In addition, to keep its position as a global agenda-setter, the EU can only benefit from adapting to social changes and acknowledging the powerful voice of a growing number of female thought leaders. After all, we’re in the age of Malala, Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Taylor Swift and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.

However, recently the EU seems to have a limited impact when it comes to pushing gender equality forward, and progress has been stalling in the last ten years:

  • Gender-related law passed in the last two Council Presidencies is almost non-existent, and some measures such as the Maternity Leave Directive have been withdrawn, while ongoing files like the Women on Boards Directive are stalled, and adopted measures such as recommendations on gender mainstreaming face implementation issues.
  • Statistics paint a bleak picture: persisting pay (16.4%) and pension (39%) gaps[1], continued gender imbalance in decision-making (see graph below), and prevalence of gender-based violence.
  • Progress amongst Member States is uneven, and at the current pace equal pay will have to wait 70 years (that’s something to make former Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding furious!)

Source: European Institute for Gender Equality

Will Commissioner Jourova’s upcoming legislative package bring some new energy to the gender equality project? Despite the EU’s ability to set political agendas, legislating gender equality faces many obstacles within the institutions, while cultural and subsidiarity issues can delay progress in Member States. Overall, it seems that what’s needed for concrete progress is a comprehensive push where the EU, Member States and the industry alike focus on what they do best, be it agenda-setting or legislating, to strive for a more equal Europe.

Institutional hurdles at EU-level       

Within the EU institutions, it seems that gender as a policy issue is not currently being prioritised. While gender equality is a third of Commissioner Jourova’s mandate, only 8 policy officers in one dedicated Unit are currently focusing on gender equality in the Commission. In the European Parliament, the formal impact of the gender equality Committee seems equally limited – despite continuous work to pressure other institutions to adopt legislative measures, most recent projects have been dedicated to progress reports or non-binding resolutions. Finally, there’s no Council formation dedicated to gender equality.

As for the role of dynamics between institutions, they often stall the legislation that manages to make its way through to negotiations. The Maternity Leave Directive proposal, which seeked to extend the minimum leave period from 14 to 18 weeks, was recently withdrawn by the Commission due to being blocked in the Council and despite the efforts of the Parliament – the same situation that stalls the Women on Boards proposal aiming to improve gender balance in corporate governance; showing the difficulties of transitioning such proposals from a more ambitious Parliament to a more conservative Council.

Source: AFP/Getty Images
MEP Licia Ronzulli votes for the extension of paid maternity leave

Member States’ role: How important is the subsidiarity issue?

Several Member State-level issues keep gender equality from progressing faster. Gender at a national level is increasingly bundled with other discrimination issues in administration and is often justified solely through economic goals such as labour efficiency, rather than claimed as an objective in itself. Public servants working on gender mainstreaming within other policy issues are often too strained working across multiple files to make a difference, while the EU-recommended gender impact assessments are almost non-existent – the soft nature of most recent EU law on gender issues makes for weak regulatory pressure on Member States.

On a more political level, some Member States have shown not to appreciate being told how to manage gender relations – due partly to the politically sensitive nature of the subsidiarity debate. Indeed, although most Member States proactively recognise the importance of gender equality, the issue is so embedded in national culture that trying to introduce EU law on the topic can lead them to adopt a defensive position – partly explaining Germany’s stalling of the Women on Boards Directive in Council, despite recently passing legislation at national level to improve gender quotas on company boards. This is coupled with a resurgence of ultra-conservative parties associated with traditional gender roles preferences in several Member States – while Sweden maintains the only self-proclaimed feminist government and diplomacy in the EU.

The future of gender equality: Much more than economic performance

Commissioner Jourova’s forthcoming proposals could bring a comprehensive policy package to the table – but they’re unlikely to succeed in bringing genuine gender equality to the EU without a much stronger and committed support from the EU, Member States and the industry.

In addition, depending on the content of the policy package, and in reaction to Commissioner Jourova’s statement that it will mostly focus on ‘economic prosperity, not social change’[2], perhaps it is necessary to acknowledge that long lasting change will only be achieved when gender equality is decoupled from economic performance and progresses at all levels of societal activity: while women are a formidable workforce that is currently underutilised, gender equality goes far beyond labour efficiency, which is just a tree in the forest of women’s rights.

Lucie Martin

[1] Statistics sourced from the Report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality adopted on 13 May 15, on the EU Strategy for equality between women and men post 2015.

[2] Heath, R. ‘Maternity leave’s pregnant pause’ in Politico, 4th August 2015 (online edition) – article available here : http://www.politico.eu/article/europe-bailout-women-jourova-employment-equality/

Categories: European Union

THE YEAR OF CLIMATE

Wed, 12/08/2015 - 10:31

Today, in a post Kyoto Protocol period, the world faces the same challenge as back in 1997 – We are again facing the need to reach an international agreement to set the scene for effective action against climate change. There is however a considerable difference between today and 1997 – climate discussion has been elevated to a different level, where it has become a great concern of the majority of governments, corporations, NGOs and citizens.

Governments and climate change

Despite many disbelievers, governments have become more concerned. The emotional speech of the Philippines Delegate at the opening of COP-19 demonstrates the effects climate change could have on those most vulnerable countries. The fact that to date 25 countries[1], representing almost all continents have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to a new Climate Change Agreement is also a good step towards reaching an agreement. In November 2014, the US and China agreed to cap and reduce emissions, and to work together to forge an international climate agreement in 2015 – yet another major step forward. Last but not least, the EU agreed on a binding target of at least a 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. Clearly, governments are concerned.

What is the role of business?

Now, let’s turn to the businesses. Have they become more concerned about climate change? I do believe so. At the end of July 2015, the White House launched the American Business Act on Climate Change. Under this scheme, each participating company has announced new pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and increase low-carbon investments, deploy clean energy and take actions to build a more sustainable business. As part of the American Business Act, Alcoa pledged 50% less GHG emissions in the US by 2025 (in comparison to 2005 levels), while Coca-Cola has pledged to reduce carbon footprint by 25% by 2020. Other companies, such as Apple, Golden Sachs, Google and Microsoft have pledged to use 100% renewable energy.

Furthermore, the statistics about the investments in clean energy and low carbon development speak for themselves. Out of the $359 billion invested in 2012, 62% came from private investments ($224 billion) versus 38% ($135 billion) from public investments.

Having business on board is therefore key, both in terms of changing corporate behaviour as well as in terms of securing future investments in low carbon economy.

You, me… us, the citizens

Source: Yale

According to a Yale-led survey of 119 countries, a staggering 40% of the globe’s population has never heard of climate change, or its effects. This rises to more than 65% in some developing countries, like Egypt, Bangladesh, and India, according to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Interestingly, the research showed that in the U.S. views on climate change were strongly linked to their politics.

Especially in developed countries, the awareness of climate change is high. For instance, in September 2014, an estimated 400,000 people marched through midtown Manhattan as part of the People’s Climate March. With more than a million of activists around the globe, the role of civil society pressuring governments, pushing for new laws, policies or strategies on climate change is increasing. “Many of even the world’s poorest countries now have active civil society coalitions that work on climate change, and they are increasingly influential,” according to Dr Hannah Reid of IIED, an editor of a report Southern voices on climate policy choices:  civil society advocacy on climate change. Civil society is becoming better organised, cooperates more with governments and is better trained in communicating with the media.

New voices…

Air pollution in Paris, Photo: Reuters

With 4,416 cities in the world with a population of over 150,000, cities are becoming an important voice in the climate change discussion. There are several initiatives aimed at mayors which particularly tackle climate change: the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Mayors Adapt and many others. At the end of July 2015, dozens of environmentally friendly mayors met with Pope Francis in Vatican to commit to reducing global warming and helping the urban poor deal with its effects. It is perhaps one of the most important initiatives of Vatican, following the release of the landmark environment encyclical ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris.

 What next?

As Nobel Laureate Al Gore stated during his last Davos speech, in order to reach an agreement in Paris in 2015 there needs to be political will across the globe, and this political will is a “renewable resource”. There is therefore an obvious need for this political will to be “backed” by the support from the industry, civil society and ordinary citizens.

With the Paris COP21 climate change negotiations in December 2015 approaching, we will see more voices present in the discussion. Whether we will be able to reach an agreement or not, climate change has become a concern for many. The feeling of concern for the future, as well as a more positive feeling of the fact that we are building a cleaner world, will be a major stimulus behind the negotiations.

12 August 2015

Ewa Abramiuk Lété is a public affairs and communications specialist who supports clients in the energy, transport and utilities sector. All above stated opinions are hers.

[1] status 11 August

Categories: European Union

Circular Economy – Parliament presents its wish list whilst Commission remains tight-lipped

Fri, 10/07/2015 - 15:47

While the European Commission is not revealing much about its vision on how to achieve a “circular” economy, the European Parliament has now made its mind up. The own-initiative report from rapporteur Sirpa Pietikäinen, adopted yesterday in plenary with 394 votes in favour, 197 votes against and 82 abstentions, aims to inspire the Commissions’ discussions on the new Circular Economy package, which is expected before the end of the year. Whether the EP’s recommendations will put further pressure on the Commission to come up with an ambitious proposal remains to be seen but one thing is certain, the Parliament has its “wish list” ready.

Last June, the adoption of Mrs. Pietikainen’s report by 56 votes in favour reflected a large political consensus in the Environment committee. However, in the period leading up to the plenary vote, the tabling of new amendments and the request for split votes for various provisions showed that diverging views may challenge this consensus. And it did indeed. Interestingly, while the content of the report remains mostly the same, a few key changes shed a new light on the Parliament’s approach of the dossier. In an attempt to offer more flexibility and address the risk of over-regulation, the Plenary has noticeably softened the Parliament’s language and readjust some expectations downwards.

Parliament softens overall resource efficiency target and confirms waste targets

It is on targets that the plenary vote had most striking and symbolic impact. While the Environment committee decided to call for a binding target to increase resource efficiency by 30% by 2030 compared with 2014 levels; the target is no longer legally binding. On waste however, expectations are unchanged. The Commission should foresee a waste reduction target for municipal, commercial and industrial waste for 2015 and increase recycling and reuse target to at least 70% of municipal solid waste and 80% recycling of packaging waste by 2030. The Parliament wants such targets to be the same in all Member States while the Commission has already indicated that it will not be excluding differentiation to a certain extent. The binding food waste target (30% by 2025) and marine litter target (50% by 2015 compared with 2014 levels) also remain on the Parliament’s wish list.

Indicators are still on the menu as well. A lead indicator and a dashboard of sub-indicators on resource efficiency should measure resource consumption, including imports and exports, at EU, Member State and industry level. Interestingly, the Parliament points out the need to adopt a lifecycle approach and to apply a footprint methodology. In other words, products and services should be considered broadly and indicators should reflect at least land, water and material use as well as carbon emissions. According to verbal statements from Commission officials, the Commission is indeed planning to measure circular economy progress by using a dashboard of indicators.

Access to information reduced to consumers’ awareness

Access to information is another area where yesterday’s vote had a significant impact. Until then, the Environment committee had come to the conclusion that information about products should be enhanced:  consumers as well as businesses should have access to information about the resources a product contains and on its expected lifetime. Now the Parliament simply and vaguely “notes that it is crucial to raise consumers’ awareness and increase their proactive role.”

Product design remains high on Parliament’s agenda

Product design is another key aspect for the European Parliament. Products should be durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable. The Eco-design Directive is considered as the best instrument to meet such ambitions. On this matter the Plenary aligned with the Environment committee: the directive should be reviewed by the end of 2016 in order to expand its scope, introduce mandatory product passports and implement self-monitoring and third-party auditing.

The reference to Green public procurement disappears

During the conference organised by the European Commission on June 25, a significant number of speakers and participants mentioned the use of green public procurement as a tool to boost the circular economy. At that time, these views were reflected in the Environment committee report which called on the Commission to propose compulsory green public procurement procedures. The reference to compulsory green public procurement has been watered-down as it now just refers to public procurement without the “compulsory green” component.

 

The Circular Economy will keep EU institutions and stakeholders busy in the months to come. While the Parliament has now clarified its expectations, the European Commission must make important decisions. When withdrawing the previous Circular Economy package, they promised “a more ambitious” package. The question is whether the new proposal will meet this high level of ambition or whether the Commission is, rather optimistically, shooting for the stars. We will be able to judge in a few months when the Commission is expected to publish the new package. Until then, stakeholders have the opportunity to express their views by contributing to the Commission’s public consultation which is open until 20 August.

Lara Visser and Pauline Tawil

Categories: European Union

5 observations of the Parliament’s report on TTIP, and the road ahead

Wed, 08/07/2015 - 18:24

A lot will be written about today’s vote in the European Parliament on Trade Committee Chair Bernd Lange’s own-initiative report on TTIP. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, we noted that:

  1. Rules can work in your favour if you have the right position

The European Parliament’s President Martin Schulz followed the Rules of Procedure to the letter, though he frequently had to read directly from the rules to explain his decision to his fellow parliamentarians on the voting priority of amendments. Schulz brought to vote Amendment 117 — that of Socialist & Democrats (S&D) member and International Trade Committee rapporteur Bernd Lange — to amend the paragraph about Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Speaking of ISDS, it is important to…

  1. Keep the mind limber to solve complicated cases

The most contentious point was the Parliament’s position on Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Using a rhetorical Houdini-like escape act, the Parliament adopted a position which simultaneously allows MEPs to say that they have ‘killed’ ISDS while supporting work to develop a system for settling disputes between investors and states. The paradoxical amendment will prove difficult for many minds. It will result in reams of analysis between now and the end of this year. Most importantly, it could provide a pressure-release valve that creates space for constructive debate. Undoubtedly, the crafting and advancement of amendment 117 by Schulz and Lange, both part of the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) group, has consequences for internal cohesion as…

  1. Political group fragmentation continues

It is even clearer that the political groups fragment easily, as we have noted in the past. There will be many simmering disagreements that may impede intra-group collaboration even outside of trade policy. The fragmentation inside parties is not the only problem. Between groups, rancor has increased as smaller groups attempt to remain relevant while they are not always necessary coalition partners. As a result…

  1. The hemicycle can still deliver heated debate

The heated exchange between EP President Schulz and two members of the Greens group — Yannick Jadot (FR) and Reinhard Bütikofer (DE) — over the application of the Rules of Procedure revealed the confrontation. The applause and boos from the deputies provided political theatre rarely seen in sleepy Strasbourg. If only the dome of the hemicycle really did glow brighter as the volume in the chamber increased. Energetic words about TTIP will fly between the benches and the President’s desk again, because…

  1. This is not the last time we will hear from the EP on TTIP

Let us not forget that the European Parliament had already in 2013 issued its opinion on TTIP when it adopted the resolution of former International Trade Committee Chairman Vital Moreira. And, once agreed, the Treaty of the European Union requires the Parliament’s consent to the final text of TTIP. That will be an even more passionate debate.

 

 

Michael Stanton-Geddes

Categories: European Union

We did it again! FleishmanHillard wins the EPACA essay competition 2 years in row

Thu, 28/05/2015 - 11:40

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.

Anne Sauviat

Categories: European Union

‘Brexit’ and Business – What does industry think?

Thu, 21/05/2015 - 10:55

In the run up the UK elections FleishmanHillard reached out to its network of clients across the EU to ask them what they thought of the possibility of a ‘Brexit’ . The feedback was overwhelming in its clarity – business is concerned that a Brexit would not just hurt Britain, it would hurt Europe. Below are some key quotes with which to contextualise business, Britain and Brexit.

We are concerned about the uncertainty caused by the Referendum

The UK is important to many of our clients, and not just as a market. One client remarked that the UK was the home of an R&D centre, for which the free movement offered by the EU was vital. The benefits of the UK’s position as an English-speaking country which enjoys a generally positive business environment make it a key investment point and ‘staging ground’ for many international businesses. Businesses from outside the EU invest in the UK disproportionately to its share of Europe’s economy: in 2013 the UK commanded 20% of FDI, while producing about 15% of GDP. 

It’s clear that businesses are happy to invest in the UK. What is also clear is that businesses are nervous about a Brexit; a recent survey of business leaders highlighted that it is even more concerning than a ‘Grexit’ (Greece’s possible departure from the Eurozone). It seems likely – and prudent – that businesses will be more hesitant about investing, when the stakes of the upcoming referendum are so high. It is for this reason that the new UK government seems to be considering a referendum in advance of its already ambitious 2017 deadline. Minimising the period of uncertainty is doubtless a step in the right direction, but it seems businesses would rather not see the issue come to a head, only 11% of respondents to our survey favoured having a referendum at all.

“Regulation and market barriers as a consequence of a Brexit would substantially harm our business”

There are those who fear that regulation and market barriers will negatively impact their business. The altered future relationship between the UK and the EU could mean that where once the “free movement for our supply chain across borders and for our workers is valuable” the reinstatement of barriers, wholly or partial could serve to make trading with the UK more difficult. When we asked our clients whether they think a Brexit would see them reducing the work they do in the UK, they were split quite evenly. Britain is the EU’s second biggest economy, and businesses are unlikely to stop trading with it, regardless of its membership status. What will happen though, as cited by our clients, is that the UK will no longer be an agenda setter, with limited ability to steer the course of the EU’s economy.  However, while the recognised advantages of the EU Single Market would prove a difficult obstacle if revoked, one client envisaged that the “most important bottom line element for our UK business is the UK business environment, notably tax levels and this is independent from the work of the EU.” This correctly identifies one of the most popular aspects of investing in the UK, and while the tax levels would evidently not be affected by a Brexit of any kind, the business environment rests on tender hooks as uncertainty over the future prevails.

“Brexit would simply be another factor to the broad view that Europe is less and less attractive for investments”

One highly pessimistic view depicts a Brexit as the final straw in a long history of decisions which contribute to an uncompetitive and stagnant investment environment – something the European Commission seems well aware of, considering the grand efforts of the Juncker Plan (an investment fund for Europe championed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker) to stimulate growth and investment in the EU. Our clients certainly think that this would be a step backwards for the EU as a whole, with an overwhelming majority agreeing that the EU’s economy would suffer in the case of a Brexit. Perhaps the view of many in the US when it comes to the EU was summed up by US Presidential long-shot Bobby Jindal when he said they must avoid turning “the American Dream into the European Nightmare.

“It would be a glorious mistake”

At present, nobody knows what the terms of a Brexit would be, or even what is being requested in the “renegotiation” period leading up to a popular vote. There are a number of overhanging issues, for example Directives which are transposed into national law would still apply if the UK were to leave the EU, agreements which have been signed with countries the world over on trade and international relations will have to be renegotiated. That is not to say that the UK’s relationship with the EU must stay the same, businesses are certainly open to the possibility of negotiation, but Brexit is overwhelmingly considered a bad idea. Therefore the above short comment which neatly summarised what a lot of our respondents were conveying may become true, however it remains to be seen how a Brexit might work, what basis a future relationship with the EU would be served on and the state of the UK post-EU.

 

 Rob Anger Martin Bresson,  Joachim Wilcke, Cillian Totterdell and Anne Murray 

 

 

Categories: European Union

The Better regulation package: A new start for European policy-making?

Mon, 18/05/2015 - 17:53

Click to access the briefing

FleishmanHillard publishes today its briefing on the Better Regulation package, which will be presented tomorrow by the Commission.

When Jean-Claude Juncker took office he made it clear that he would not only make Europe “bigger on the bigger things”, but also promised to make it more efficient. The ultimate goal is to restore confidence in the EU.

Tomorrow, the Commission will present its Better Regulation package to the Parliament. It will consist of a Communication to explain a number of new working methods, alongside a proposal for an interinstitutional agreement on better law-making, a common understanding on delegated acts and a new REFIT scoreboard. It is expected to make the decision-making process more efficient, but most importantly it will include additional opportunities for consultations, notably on impact assessments.

The initiative will have a direct impact on any future policy proposal and is aimed at making the legislative process more accountable, more transparent, and more science-based. The Commission will be looking to reach an agreement with the Parliament and Council by the end of 2015. Ahead of the debates, FleishmanHillard wanted to share some of the main elements of the proposals, and whether they are likely to have an impact on how European legislation is prepared.

Lucie L’Hopital, Martin Bresson

Categories: European Union

Is #Brexit a reality? and why should the Eurobubble care?

Fri, 08/05/2015 - 13:33

Yesterday was a long night on both sides of the Channel. With the final results of UK general elections imminent, the option of a popular referendum on the UK’s EU membership is likely to soon become a reality.

Against this backdrop, FleishmanHillard is examining what an exit might hypothetically mean for the institutional set-up in Brussels – starting with the EP. Have a look at the implications for Parliament in our in-depth analysis posted here.

With 73 British MEPs currently in the European Parliament, a UK exit would significantly disrupt current political group dynamics and impact policy choices. Important questions would be raised over the impact on parliamentary group dynamics and changes to current coalition formations.

Key amongst these changes would be the potential emergence of the ALDE group as a ‘kingmaker’ for political agreement, increasing its influence vis-à-vis the larger political groups.   

 

Additional headline implications of a UK exit

  • The Grand Coalition of the EPP and S&D would become more fragile, with a possible return to the traditional left v. right alliances
  • With the EFDD no longer a viable group, Marine Le Pen’s Front National delegation might give the formation of a new Eurosceptic group another try.
  • The S&D’s centre of gravity might move further towards the left, without its 20 MEP strong Labour delegation.
  • Any UK exit would likely necessitate a widespread reallocation of senior EP positions
  • Larger Member States might not push for a reallocation of vacated seats

We hope you find this analytical insight interesting, and we will follow up with an analysis of a UK exit on the Council’s political dynamics in the coming days.

Stay tuned!

 

The Institutional Research Unit

 

 

Categories: European Union

Chemicals and Environment: what can industry expect from the EU this year?

Thu, 30/04/2015 - 18:37

FleishmanHillard publishes today its EU Environment and Chemicals legislation timeline. What can industry expect from the EU in the coming  years? Our timeline provides a tour d’horizon of the most important milestones to look for.

Click to enlarge

When he took office, Commission President Juncker promised the Commission would be “bigger on the bigger things” and would support industry’s growth and jobs. His “10 priorities” said it clearly: “We need to bring industry’s weight in the EU’s GDP back to 20% by 2020”. Surprisingly to many, this did not seem to include ambitious environmental targets: sustainable development and the environment were hardly mentioned in the 10 priorities. In the mission letter he sent to the new Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella, priority was given to the avoidance of new environmental legislation and ensuring existing rules are “fit for purpose”. The first move of the Commission was to withdraw the circular economy package and its legislative proposal on waste, which threatened to become overly broad and burdensome. This move was strongly criticised by NGOs, MEPs and Member States, and the Commission now needs to demonstrate its environmental ambition. In this context, what can be expected this year for environment and chemicals?

Ensuring that existing legislation is implemented and supports competitiveness

EU environmental policy is well developed, and a driver for global progress. It is however often criticised for burdening industry and for being applied unequally by Member States. Making it “fit for purpose” therefore means, in Juncker’s agenda, ensuring that existing rules are not only properly applied, but that they also support EU jobs and growth. This is why 2015 will see the evaluation of a broad range of existing EU policies on water, environmental liability, environmental noise and the birds and habitats directives. These evaluations could lead to future policy proposals to tackle inefficiencies and unnecessary burdens.

What this means for now is that industry should participate in the early stages of this process. The Commission would likely welcome any information on the current practical implementation of existing legislation.

Revising the waste legislation in a push towards a circular economy

In 2015, all eyes will be on the upcoming circular economy proposal. Whilst focus will of course be on the proposal, the main legal impact will come from the revision of the waste legislation which it will contain. Juncker’s Commission made the controversial move of withdrawing the original proposal, promising to replace it with a more ambitious one. It will have to prove it is able to present a package that makes economic and environmental sense. The proposal is expected for the end of the year. MEPs expect a strong signal to make sure that toxic substances are kept out of the production stream early on, taking into account the importance of waste and recycling for sustainable growth.

Whether or not the Commission will answer these calls remains unsure. What appears at this stage however is that the Commission is looking to ensure its proposal will be realistic and can actually be implemented by industry without creating unnecessary burden. Despite the Commission’s limited environmental agenda, the real question is whether the Parliament and Council will accept its proposal or will decide to strongly enhance it.

An ongoing focus on industry’s emissions into the environment

Meanwhile, work will continue on industrial emissions into air and water. There are ongoing discussions on the emission of pollutants from medium combustion plants, and the Commission recently adopted a watch list of substances to be monitored in surface water. The emission of hazardous substances in the environment will continue to be the focus as the Commission is currently working on the elaboration of a similar watch list for groundwater, and is expected to come forward with a proposal for a strategy to tackle the presence of pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Although these topics attract less political attention than the circular economy, they could be the source of significant regulatory obligations for industry. Preparatory work is ongoing to define substances of interest and ways to measure their presence into the environment.

A new beginning for EU chemicals legislation?

Concrete changes are also expected in chemicals legislation this year. On nanomaterials, the Commission has been due to present proposals on the definition of nanomaterials and their regulation under REACH since 2014. They are now expected for the first half of this year and could impact a large number of chemical producers and end-users as nanomaterials are more and more closely examined by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). The Commission originally planned to present a proposal for the creation of an EU-wide register but now appears to have changed its thinking on this, seeing it could create additional burden with uncertain results in terms of consumer information and protection.

Meanwhile, the implementation of existing regulations on biocides, REACH and RoHS will continue, but industry stakeholders are invited to transmit experience of the advantages and difficulties of implementing EU chemicals legislation across Member States and sectors. This feedback will be crucial in feeding into the ongoing evaluation of existing chemicals legislation, its interaction with health and safety legislation and its overall impact on the EU’s industrial performance. It will be important for industry to take this opportunity to make its voice and concerns heard (see our previous blog post on the REFIT of chemicals legislation).

The work plan of the Commission for 2016 should contain the long-awaited proposal on endocrine disruptors and could contain a number of new proposals on chemicals legislation. Whether or not they will drive change is partly in the hands of industry. If companies do not make their voices heard in the ongoing evaluation and consultations they are likely to see any existing flaws and inefficiencies maintained.

Lucie L’HôpitalRob Anger, Aaron McLoughlin, Pauline Tawil, on behalf of the M&I team

Categories: European Union

Decrypting the EU Energy Jargon

Tue, 28/04/2015 - 20:08

I love words. I work in public affairs and communications, so I love words. As public affairs consultants, we write all day long. We write, rewrite, rephrase, edit, amend, tweak, this is all we do: we play with words, we build strong cases and look for convincing arguments.

Read industry position papers and Commissioners’ speeches, they use the same jargon. This jargon is comfortable. It gives us an ‘esprit de corps’, as it were. However, the jargon also clouds our discussions. As consultants we try not to fall into the trap and propose alternatives. It is not always easy. In the energy policy area, 10 phrases are on everyone’s lips. They are so commonly used that we tend to forget what they really mean and where they’re coming from.

  1. Energy Union

Term coined in 2014 by then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to instigate common gas purchasing and strengthen the EU’s negotiating powers towards external suppliers Russia. This is now a catch-all phrase for our entire Energy and Climate policy programme for  the next five years – which in effect no longer includes obligatory common gas purchasing.

  1. Decarbonisation

This is not even a word in the English dictionary (about this, I encourage everyone to read the Commission’s publication on Misused English Words and Expressions in EU Publications, which is an excellent read). Brussels is not Oxford, so let’s continue to encourage Europe to ‘decarbonise’ its economy, just like we want to ‘internalise external costs’.

  1. Level-playing field

You will rarely find a stakeholder not asking for a ‘level-playing field’. More often than not, it will be accompanied by words of caution against ‘unintended consequences’ and calls for the popular ‘regulatory certainty’.

  1. Energy subsidies

There is a tension about subsidies, almost a love/hate relationship about them. You dislike them unless they are directed to you. Whilst they are widely acknowledged for distorting the market, they can be accepted under certain conditions, for example for technologies that are not yet commercially available. Their phasing-out is recommended, but Member States continue to use them massively, both for renewables and fossil fuels. Figures are usually thrown into the debate, with no strong evidence backing them.

  1. Carbon Leakage

When I first heard this phrase in 2009, I remember thinking there were actually molecules of carbon physically leaking from somewhere. There are not. In effect, this is about industries likely to relocate outside Europe (and emitting carbon there) due to additional costs incurred by EU climate policy (namely, the Emissions Trading Scheme). Most expert studies have so far concluded that there is no evidence of carbon leakage. This might change when/if the carbon price increases.

  1. Completion of the internal energy market

Since Heads of States agreed to complete the internal energy market by 2014 (February 2011 Council Conclusions), and to “allow gas and electricity to flow freely”, this has become the mantra of EU energy policy. Progress has definitively been made – with more interconnections, more diversity of supplies and some convergence in prices. But who would really argue that the EU energy market prevails over the 28 national energy markets?

  1. Hardware

A new piece of vocabulary that emerged with the Energy Union. This is neither a computer nor a piece of electronics, but rather the physical infrastructure needed to complete the internal energy market: gas and electricity interconnections, pipelines, LNG terminals.

  1. Software

Again, a creation of the Energy Union.  Should be understood as the regulatory framework building links between domestic gas and electricity markets and making cross-border flows possible. Be it network codes or the reform of the power market design, they all fall under ‘The Software’.

  1. Intermittent

Don’t describe renewable energies as intermittent. EWEA, the wind energy association, “recommends using the qualifier “variable” when referring to wind power generation, rather than “intermittent”, which means starting and stopping at irregular intervals.” Now you know.

  1. Clean coal

A very bold oxymoron, and a good marketing tool to promote Carbon Capture and Storage.

The EU energy lingo goes beyond these few examples. I could expand on ‘windfall profits’, ‘technology neutrality’, ‘capacity mechanisms’, ‘prosumers’, ‘the energy-only market’ and many others. If you have any personal preferences, feel free to share. For my part, I am off writing about the plenary vote on ‘Indirect Land-Use Change’ – my favourite.

 

Clara Lemaire

 

 

Categories: European Union

The Finnish Effect – What Finland’s elections can tell us about the Future of European Politics

Fri, 17/04/2015 - 16:42

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!

Announcement:

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

Categories: European Union

35 Days to the UK General Election: The View from Westminster

Wed, 01/04/2015 - 10:15

With 35 days to go, Labour and the Tories remain neck-and-neck in the polls, to the internal frustration of some Labour politicians, who recognize that the party should be faring much better by now, given the persistence of its anti-austerity rhetoric.

As such, it continues to be clear that neither main party will secure enough votes to form a majority government-paving the way for small parties to hold the balance of power on May 8th.  It’s all going to come down to a numbers game, and a confidence and supply arrangement between Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) remains a very real option.

The possibility of any such formal arrangement caused significant controversy few weeks back, amidst revelations that some Labour strategists are in favour of a permanent alliance with the SNP after the election. The prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition was widely perceived as a threat to the unity of the country, and the news was met with calls for Labour to confirm that no electoral pact with the SNP would be made in the event of a hung Parliament, putting the Leader of the Opposition under pressure to declare there would be “no SNP ministers in any government I lead.”

The SNP currently has only six MPs at Westminster, but is predicted to significantly increase its number at the general election, possibly winning up to 50 of the 59 Scottish parliamentary constituencies. Feeling emboldened by the opinion polls, Alex Salmond, the party’s former leader, declared in a New Statesman interview last week that the SNP would block a minority Conservative government by voting down its Queen’s Speech. This would effectively result in a vote of no confidence against a minority conservative government, and provide Labour with the chance to form a stable government.

His comments may be bold, but Alex Salmond has good reason to feel smug. This week’s Guardian/ICM poll confirmed SNP’s lead at 43% of the of the predicted vote-a whole 16% ahead the Scottish Labour party. Considering how unlikely it is that Labour and the Liberal Democrats alone will be able to scrape together the 326 MPs needed to form an overall majority, these numbers indicate just how likely it is that the SNP will remain central to any post-election negotiations. It’s worth remembering that the SNP brought down a government in 1979- there’s every chance it could do so again.

Salmond’s comments were of course met with fierce criticism from the Conservatives who accused the ex-SNP leader of “trying to sabotage the democratic will of the British people”.  It is highly likely that the ex-Scottish First Minister will play a big role post-election despite no longer being the leader of the SNP, and such rhetoric is being used to portray Miliband as a weak leader who is dancing to Alex Salmond’s tune.

There is much uncertainty around this election, and the aftermath is set to throw up even more uncertainty, especially for business.  Any confidence and supply arrangement between Labour and the SNP would result in large cash transfers to Scotland, and potentially another referendum on independence. This would lead to a climate of uncertainty for business, and result in a potentially dramatic drop in foreign investment. The other potential scenario, which would see an SNP surge north of the border, could cost Labour enough seats to put the Conservatives into power, bringing with it the dread of an EU referendum in 2017. This situation could prove equally disastrous in the economic sense, and result in just as much business uncertainty and fear of investment.

It’s going to be a tight race, and it remains to be seen whether the SNP will succeed in persuading enough Scottish voters that they are the magic solution that will both keep the Conservatives out of Westminster and protect Scottish interests; or whether Labour’s message that a vote for the SNP means a vote for Cameron, will finally resonate. Either way, the possible economic impact of each outcome appears worryingly bleak.

 

James Dowling

Categories: European Union

Online video services in the crosshairs of the European Commission

Thu, 26/03/2015 - 13:14

As part of its wide-ranging digital single market strategy, the European Commission is considering introducing regulations which would bring about major changes for on-demand video providers like Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.

The Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip has firmly set his sights on the practice of geo-blocking, claiming it’s unfair that citizens across Europe can’t access the same digital services on equal terms. With the European Commission committed to ambitious legal steps in its digital single market strategy, geo-blocking is close to public enemy number one in the eyes of the EU’s executive branch.

Far too often, consumers find themselves redirected to a national website, or blocked. I know this from my own experience. You probably do as well….In the offline world, this would be called discrimination. In the online world, it happens every day.

Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market

The Commission seems to think that distributors, like these on-demand services, are deliberately signing contracts to distribute content selectively across the EU, then using this as a defence for geo-blocking, by claiming they only have the rights to distribute certain content in certain territories or languages (for example, when Netflix launched in Belgium, you could only watch the massively popular House of Cards if you set your language to English, as they’d sold the French-language rights to another channel).

The Commission, considering this an unacceptable situation for consumers, is actively considering banning arrangements like these, which could leave online services with the simple choice of licensing content for all of Europe, or none of it.

Operators like Hulu and Crave TV, or even Singtel have the advantage of watching the situation play out from the outside, even if they won’t be able to ignore the EU market and its 500 million consumers forever.

And when they do enter, they along with those already present, will likely have to deal with a new European-level law governing the sale of digital content, as the Commission looks to update existing rules on e-commerce and introduce new ones. This could even include forcing content providers to strip back their contract terms, presenting consumers with only the most important ones in an easy-to-read format, instead of the 100+ page agreements we are used to seeing.

As the definitive form of the digital single market plan evolves, all eyes will be on the European Commission ahead of the planned release of the strategy on May 6th.

Tiernan Kenny

Categories: European Union

2015 A new beginning for EU chemicals legislation?

Fri, 13/03/2015 - 18:02

On 10 March 2015 the Commission completed a survey on the impact of  the REACH legislation on EU competitiveness which it launched in February. The Commission asked Europe’s industry a simple question: how much does REACH cost your business? Throughout 2015 the Commission will conduct other surveys, consultations and assessments like this one. The objective is clear: to make EU chemicals legislation an instrument of the industry’s competitiveness. Is your organisation making its voice heard in this process?

This initiative is part of a bigger move under REFIT

‘REFIT’ is the Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme: it is meant to ensure that existing legislation is ‘fit for purpose’. Its objective is to identify inconsistencies, contradictions, gaps or overlaps, and to solve them.

The Commission has new leaders who have a new agenda focused on jobs and growth. To help bring this about, they are doing things very differently. This year they are performing a fitness check up on Europe’s  chemicals legislation. In 2015 the Commission will look at the whole body of EU chemicals legislation, and not only REACH.

In 2013 it  conducted a review of REACH which concluded that REACH needed to be better implemented and to be less of a burden on the industry, particularly on SMEs. ECHA has already been working on reducing fees and supporting SMEs more, by simplifying the authorisation process.

What will it look like concretely?

  • A study on the fitness of the risk management of chemicals: this study will mainly look whether the CLP regulation is implemented properly, and how the various laws at EU and national levels interact with each other.
  • A study on the cost of the chemicals legislation: the results of the survey that closed this week will of course be part of this study, which will look to estimate the European industry’s losses each year due to the regulatory burdens generated by the chemicals legislation.
  • A study on the benefits of the chemicals legislation: of course the costs will need to be weighted against the benefits this legislation brings, in terms of health, environmental protection and support to growth and competitiveness.

In parallel, the Commission is also conducting an evaluation of existing Health and Safety legislation. In particular, it will look at how health and safety can be better articulated within the chemicals legislation. The overlap between the two regimes is cumbersome and confusing for companies, and can require contradictory measures to be implemented at the workplace.

Based on all this, the Commission will have an overview of the concrete costs and benefits of EU chemicals legislation. The Commission plans to report in 2016 and recommend what needs to be done.

From there, it expects to be able to make policy proposals to adapt the legislation and make it more efficient, and more clear, in short, more fit for the 21st century.

Industry participation will be key

The Commission needs to know what impact chemical law is having.  And, it can only do that if companies take the time from their busy schedules to let the Commission know what is happening.  Silence is not an option. This will be your chance to directly tell the Commission where there are areas for improvement: don’t miss it.

European legislation is littered with too many examples  of laws drafted in a vacuum, starved of the feedback from hard working men and women who know best what day-to-day impact  European laws have on their lives. If companies do not speak up, bad decisions may  be made.

See our briefing: “2015 A new beginning for EU Chemicals legislation?

Aaron McLoughlin and Lucie L’Hopital

Categories: European Union

Can Europe fill its investment gap?

Wed, 11/03/2015 - 13:56

When Jean-Claude Juncker took office last year as President of the European Commission he claimed that Europe had a problem – it was chronically under-investing in its critical infrastructure. The long lag in economic growth following the financial crisis and the fiscal pressure felt by most European countries since have contributed to an investment gap of up to €370 Bn below Europe’s current potential – compounding the economic malaise of the continent and reducing, in turn, Europe’s foundation for economic growth in the future.

Luckily however, Juncker didn’t just identify the problem but made finding a solution to it the headline priority of his first year in office. Enter the EU Investment Plan (#InvestEU for you Twitter addicts, and better known as the ‘Juncker Plan’) which proposed to mobilize €315 Bn in investment finance over three years along with a range of initiatives to improve the general investment environment in Europe. The centerpiece of the Plan was the creation of the European Fund for Strategic Investment (the EFSI) which would work within the European Investment Bank to leverage and direct the seed capital for the €315 Bn target towards the most efficient projects Europe has to offer.

We might then all have a cause to celebrate this week, as EU Finance Ministers reached a quick agreement on the structuring legislation for the EFSI yesterday. But before anyone uncorks the champagne, we should take stock of the obstacles the Juncker Plan still faces – as the road between yesterday’s agreement and filling Europe’s yawning investment gap is a very long one indeed.

Challenges Ahead for the Juncker Investment Fund

It is firstly worth noting that the political process to establish the EFSI Investment Fund is not actually complete. European Member States, having now reached an agreement, will now have to negotiate with the European Parliament on a common position before EFSI can enter European law – something which needs to happen before the summer break (this is, by all means, an extremely tight timeline for the European legislative process).

The bigger challenges, however, might lie outside of the political process, as it’s a very poorly kept secret that the European money mobilized for the Fund is nowheres close to its €315 Bn target – it’s actually just €21 Bn.

All the rest has to come from leverage and co-investment, which can’t be done by legislative decree.

The first step will be for the EIB to leverage the €21 Bn three times to €63 Bn. This is, of course, very achievable for an institution with the expertise and creditworthiness of the EIB.

The trickier bit is co-investment. In short, the remaining funds (fully €252 Bn) will have to come from public and private investors who decide to invest alongside the EIB in specific projects supported by EFSI (a process that will look something akin to the graphic below).

To give you an idea of the scale of the challenge, France and Italy, Europe’s second and fourth largest economies respectively, just this week committed to co-investing €8 Bn each in EFSI projects undertaken in their countries. That still leaves another €236 Bn of funds entirely unidentified at this stage.

What about the private sector?

It’s clear enough to everyone involved that the private sector is going to have to step up and take advantage of historically low interest rates by investing more in infrastructure. But how can we convince them to actually do that in time?

The answer to this is not so much in the Fund itself, but the broader Plan. You didn’t forget that the Plan was bigger than just the Fund, did you? Crucially, it is.

The ‘Juncker Plan’ includes a range of initiatives meant to substantially improve the environment for infrastructure and other investment in Europe. This includes creating a European Infrastructure Pipeline and Infrastructure Advisory Hub, both meant to enhance the transparency and investability of infrastructure as an asset class for large institutional investors (think pension funds and insurers).

Initiatives like the infrastructure pipeline are crucial innovations as one of the biggest roadblocks for private sector investment in infrastructure has been the lack of deal-flow and past performance data in many countries. This is mostly the case because infrastructure is traditionally seen as a public good with no steady record of private sector involvement in funding its creation. A European-level pipeline of identified projects would help investors plan their investment allocations over time and give them more information to consider increasing their exposure to infrastructure in general.

This maybe sounds easier than it will actually be. In practice, private investors often plan their investment allocations years in advance and have to balance those decisions within a diversified strategy that relies on carefully made decisions about risk appetite and the financial instruments used for investment.

In this context, it’s important that public sector officials develop a strong understanding of how private investors make their decisions and what they need in order to co-invest in EFSI-type projects. The skepticism demonstrated by some EU countries over the infrastructure pipeline (now made optional by the Council’s agreement for countries to participate in) is an example of just such a disconnect that could risk the Plan’s ability to attract private interest.

Overall however, the Juncker Plan has been proposed by the Commission and initiated into the European legislative process in record time. The need for such an initiative is clear, and this has been reflected in the high priority attached to it by almost all Member States and political groups in the EU. The quick process of establishment though, highlights the need to make sure we get things right the first time. Recognizing the role the private sector will have to play in this and considering how best to ensure that this actually happens is therefore perhaps as urgent as the Plan itself.

Scott Martin

Categories: European Union

Yep, Europe got a C+ on childhood obesity

Thu, 26/02/2015 - 19:48

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

Categories: European Union

Healthy Lifestyles Conference in Riga; will the EU get a C+ on childhood obesity?

Thu, 19/02/2015 - 12:50

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’[1].

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[2], 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[3].

 

 

 

 

 

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’[4].

By 2020, the plan aims to help Member States achieve 6 core objectives, each associated to a number of precise targets [5]:

  1. Support a healthy start in life
  2. Promote healthier environments, especially in schools ƒ
  3. Make the healthy option, the easier optionƒ
  4. Restrict marketing and advertising to children ƒ
  5. Inform and empower familiesƒ
  6. Encourage physical activity ƒ

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[6] 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[7]. 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[8].

 

Now one question remains: will current progress be enough? What further recommendations can be expected? In line with the Global Status of NCDs Report[9], 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

 

 

[1] https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/articles/opinion/latvian-presidency-will-promote-healthy-lifestyle

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/health/reports/docs/health_glance_2014_en.pdf

[3] http://www.who.int/fctc/reporting/party_reports/latvia_annex2_public_health_strategy_2011_2017.pdf

[4] http://gr2014.eu/sites/default/files/Nutrition%20and%20Physical%20Activity%20Press%20Release%202%20EN.pdf

[5] http://ec.europa.eu/health/nutrition_physical_activity/docs/childhoodobesity_actionplan_2014_2020_en.pdf

[6] https://eu2015.lv/images/Kalendars/VM/Draft_Agenda_100215_FINAL.pdf

[7] http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/243419/Summary-document-28-MS-country-profile.pdf?ua=1

[8] http://ec.europa.eu/health/reports/european/health_glance_2014_en.htm

[9] http://www.who.int/nmh/publications/ncd-status-report-2014/en/

Categories: European Union

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