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This week it’s the second installment of our Day in the Life of an MEP’s Assistant. Alina Totti, Assistant to Claudia Tapardel who is part of the S&D party.

Alina Totti

In trying to describe a typical day in the life of an MEP assistant I was presented with a very big challenge – having the actual time to sit down and write something. However, since I also want my two seconds of fame in the Eurobubble, I decided to make the time and offer a glimpse into my daily activities. I wondered, though, – how honest should I be in describing my relationship with this position? Because like the best relationships, it is both passionate and complicated…

To begin with a cliche: there is no such thing as a typical day at the parliament. On a quiet day I can finally read a report about the reduction of rail noise in Europe and reply to the couple of hundred unread emails in my inbox. Other days I spend 12 hours writing two speeches, a press release and meeting four lobby groups with four different ideas about the European Aviation Strategy. Both and many more combinations are possible.

9:00 (ish) –  By this time I am in the office, having already read the Politico Playbook and a couple of newsletters on the bus to work. This means I have the small talk covered for possible conferences later that day.

The first thing I do is write a list of my tasks for the day. This is probably one of the best tips I ever received in my professional life and also what I would recommend to anyone working on a lot of topics. Not only because it helps me structure my day and clears my mind, but also because ticking the boxes after completing a task is one of the most gratifying feelings. Normally, this list means replying to emails, reading a transport-related report and summarizing it for my MEP, writing a speech for an event back in Romania and meeting representatives from various organisations. On top of that, there is usually a TRAN committee meeting.

10:00 – Time for an unexpected meeting with another MEP who wishes to organise an event about the problem with seasonality in tourism. As my MEP is very passionate about the subject, we agree to co-host the debate in two months. That means we have to book a room, find speakers, make a poster and organise the catering. Thank God we have trainees.

11:00 – A committee meetings is where you get to see politics in motion, MEPs arguing with each other – politely of course – and also where you receive an unlimited number of water bottles. I sit in the back of the room and take notes together with the other assistants.

13:00 – I somehow manage to run to a conference about transport decarbonisation. I find this very useful for the files we are working on, plus I enjoy talking to people and taking cards. Someone asks me (again) if I am a trainee… I am quite jealous of the assistants who can grow a beard.

14:00 – Many afternoons are filled with stakeholder meetings – hotel associations, truck drivers unions etc. Some I attend with my MEP, others it is just me and my serious face. I must say I really enjoy this part of my job. You can learn a lot from people who have often spent years promoting a cause. As I listen to them I already start visualising amendments to the legislative proposals we are working on.

16:00 – Finally the time to write a speech. I love to go through my research, determine with my MEP the position we want to take and build a convincing story. The last speech I wrote was about what European integration brought to Romania.

18:00 – Still writing. I am wondering if anyone can hear that I have Nordic black metal playing in my headphones.

19:00 – There is no denying that I love my job, but there is a special feeling I get when I hear the sound of the computer shutting down. It is time to go home, but that doesn’t mean I don’t squeeze some files into my purse so I can (willingly) read more at home…

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Last Week, the chamber hosted its conference on the Digital Single Market conference. Moderated by Chair of the EU Committee, James Stevens, the conference saw keynote speeches from Commissioner Günther Oettinger: Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Andrus Ansip and Robert Madelin, EPSC as well as featuring representatives from Business and Industry, trade bodies and Members of the European Parliament.

4 Takeaways from Commissioner Oettinger’s speech

Europe is still lagging behind…

Europe has the skills and can boast plenty of success stories in the tech sector but we are still far behind. The creative platforms we have around us – apps, social media, new services: Not enough of these are coming from Europe. This is something we need to reverse.

Digital Single Market now

For decades we have been developing a common European market covering a broad spectrum of sectors, giving a clear advantage to our industries in the context of the biggest market in world. There is no argument whatsoever against enlarging the benefits of the common market to the digital sector. Such benefits are expected to be much bigger if one looks to the markets of Europe’s associated partners such as Ukraine or Turkey. Fixing the regulatory fragmentation is the key issue: we do not need 28 national silos. In this respect, the general data protection regulation adopted a few months ago is the example to be followed.

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A gigabyte society

The Digital Single Market cannot become a reality without adequate infrastructures. Europe must aim for a gigabyte society if it wants to avoid failure. In order to make the most of booming sectors such as the development of the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine, or e–health, Europe cannot keep leveraging on 30 Mbps or 100 Mbps forever. It should start thinking of networks capable of reaching speeds of 500mbps or higher.

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Digital Divide(s)

Europe is still grappling with two types of digital divide. The first concerns the connectivity gap between rural and metropolitan areas, which in turn requires more comprehensive investment strategies in digital infrastructures. The second lies between European citizens with digital skills and those who lack technological education. Member states should give more priority to the digital education of their citizens: the European Commission will step up its efforts to help them set up related policies on digital skills.

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DSM: Bridging the Gap -Media Partner

You can catch the rest of the highlights on our Twitter feed

Last year, we featured a few pieces from MEP’s in our ‘A Day in the life of…’ series and this week, Adam Terry – Political Officer to Anneliese Dodds MEP at the European Parliament, gives his insight into life as an MEP’s assistant.

Describe a typical day in the life of an MEP’s assistant, you say?  It’s probably best to start off by saying that there is no such thing.  For a start, which day of the week is it?  If it’s a Monday, then there might be a bit of time in the morning to catch my breath and focus on some longer-term projects.  If it’s a Tuesday or a Wednesday, I’ll be lucky to find five minutes to grab a much-needed coffee.  And then what type of week is it?  A plenary week in Strasbourg, a policy-heavy Committee week or a politics-heavy Group week?  All of these things will shape what kind of day I’m about to have – and that’s without the unexpected impact of Harold Macmillan’s famous “events, dear boy, events”.  For argument’s sake, let’s pick a Tuesday in Committee week…

08.30: I’ll do my best to get in before the full madness of the day has begun, to go through press round-up emails and keep an eye out for developments in the areas my MEP is most interested in.  For Anneliese, that means the latest on tax avoidance and evasion, fixing the financial system post-crisis, and (no doubt for every Brit in the Parliament at the moment…) the UK referendum debate.

09.00: Time to head down to the ECON Committee room and see what’s happening.  It could be a hearing with a Commissioner, central bank governor or another economics celebrity.  If Anneliese has speaking time, I will have made sure to provide her with the facts and figures she needs to ask a clear, concise question and (hopefully) get a clear, concise answer back!

12.30: Time for a lunch meeting with stakeholders.  Whatever Anneliese is working on, she will want to be aware of what all the major interested parties have to say about it.  She will want to hear a broad range of opinions – from civil society and NGOs, from her constituents, from government and regulators, and from industry – to ensure she is as well-informed as possible.  I’ll make sure she is well-briefed ahead of the meeting, and keep track of how we might need to follow up.

14.00: A chance to sit at my desk.  The blessing and the curse of the smartphone means I’m able to keep an eye on emails throughout the day, but it’s nice to have a moment in front of my computer to look properly at what’s come in.  I’ll get a chance to catch up on some ECON work and to help the team in the UK answer some of the many thousands of emails Anneliese receives from her constituents.  In the meantime, it will be my colleagues’ turn to staff Anneliese – perhaps supporting her in her role as Chair of the Delegation to Montenegro, or working up a press release or lines to take for an upcoming interview.

15.00: Before too long, it’s back to the Committee room – this time for an exchange of views on one of the many pieces of legislation that pass through the ECON Committee.  If it’s a report where Anneliese is rapporteur or shadow, I’ll have made sure to find out as much as I can in advance about the other groups’ positions and the areas where we might be able to compromise.  The aim is always a report that reflects our S&D values, while gathering enough support from other groups in order to pass that crucial vote.

18.30: Back to the desk and a chance to catch up on everything that has come up during the day, and to start scribbling tomorrow’s to do list.  I’ll look back on today’s to do list, and if it’s been a good day a fair chunk of it will be satisfyingly crossed off in red pen.  If life has thrown a few too many surprises at me, then a lot of today’s list will get transferred straight over to tomorrow’s…

19.30: Time to head home, after a long day which nevertheless seems to have flown by.  There’s certainly no watching the clock in this job.  As I close the door to our office, Anneliese will still be in hers, typing away and preparing to go and give a speech at an event somewhere else.  There are three of us who work for her in Brussels, and we all work flat-out to do so.  How she manages to do everything that’s asked of her, on her own, is beyond me…

It’s obvious that young people are the one’s with the highest stake in the debate over the future of Europe. BNG Chair Amelie Coulet argues that to engage the younger generation in the UK, referendum campaigns need to be more positive.

Last week, I spoke to an event organized by the Young Professionals Network of the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE) in London about “Brexit: what would it mean for young professionals?”. It was a great opportunity to show the multinational perspective of the BNG group (Brussels New Generation) on this important issue: what would Brexit actually mean for all the young working Europeans, many of whom have studied, lived and worked in more than one EU member state or may be currently working in a country that is not their own.

Since the start of the campaign, we have heard the views of many politicians and business leaders both in the UK and outside. However, it is the younger generation who will be living with the consequences of the Referendum, no matter the outcome. Yet, current polls show that young people below 35 years old do not share the same views than the older demographic. A recent poll found that 25% of 18- to 34-year-olds would vote to leave the EU compared to 46% of those aged 55 or older, with the age group in between remaining relatively neutral. But more importantly, the younger generations are also much less likely to vote: this British Election Study poll shows that more than 22-23% of 18- to 34-year-olds would not vote while they are less than 8% among the 56 to 65 age group.

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There are many interpretations as to why a generation who would rather keep things the way they currently are, would take the risk of letting other voters with opposite views take control of the debate? Bad timing of the Referendum has been pointed out as one of them (end of year exams, summer holidays, etc.). From our perspective as young professionals, we believe that our generation does not share the same view of the EU than those who remember the UK before it joined in 1973. Young professionals are more mobile and ‘pan-European’: they have long taken advantage of Erasmus programmes, the rise of low-cost airlines in a free movement area, or the growing cross-border job opportunities offered by international corporations. They do not see the EU in terms of costs vs. benefits but more as something they have always lived with, whether they agree with all its policies or not, or whether they found it to be a successful or a dysfunctional project. This ‘sense of normality’ may be one of the reasons why they feel less strongly about the issue than those aged 55 or older.

REPORTERS  The Berlaymont Building

Negative campaigning is also the dominant trend at the moment: from being overtaken by migrants if the UK stays, to the collapse of the entire British economy if they leave, it is difficult to find positive arguments coming out of the ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ campaigns. Yet ‘Project Fear’ will not work with young people on the long-term. As the Scotland experience has taught us, if it may work to keep the status quo on the short-term, it won’t convince voters that they have made a conscious choice nor will it close the debate: following the Referendum on Scotland’s independence, SNP recorded a historic landslide general election victory and the idea of Scotland leaving the UK has resurfaced facing the possibility of a ‘Brexit’.

Both sides of the campaign need to better inform and involve younger people in the debate, not scare them off. The younger generation, and particularly the young professionals, also need to make their voice heard. For that, it is everyone’s role and responsibility to encourage young people to take part in a campaign that will strongly impact their future.

The Referendum will be held during the 2016 Glastonbury music festival: its organisers have quickly reacted to inform their audience about how they can vote while still enjoying the festival. We should all do the same with all our young British friends and colleagues.

 

Last week’s European Council Summit sparked a lot of media attention for the chamber. We’ve put the pick together here so you can catch any of the TV, radio and newspaper interviews from the week.

On Thursday, on the bill with former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, CEO Glenn Vaughan was interviewed live on euronews

 

Vice-President Tom Parker also spoke to RTBF on Sunday morning, you can listen here:

 

 

Tom also appeared on Sunday night’s televised news, you can watch that here (from 23 mins)

https://plus.google.com/u/1/109148282093574806381/posts/fT2n9UAkqdL

 

President Thomas Spiller was also quoted in The Bulletin, warning of the negative impact drawn out negotiations can have on business

https://plus.google.com/u/1/109148282093574806381/posts/WczX4vkseMR

Tom Parker speaks to Share Radio on the EU reforms and June’s Referendum from the Brussels perspective!

Glenn Vaughan was also interviewed on Estonian National Television, EER.

EU Committee chair James Stevens was also quoted in a recent article in Politico

James Stevens

Over the next few weeks we’ll be hearing from some of our organising committee chairs on what they’re planning for our members in 2016. This week, EU Committee Chair James Stevens tells us what to expect over the next 12 months

A quick scan of the newspapers at this time of year provides you with a veritable smorgasbord of predictions for the year ahead. And the great thing about divining the future is that whether you’re informed, misinformed or uninformed, your predictions are as valid as the next man’s. It’s also pretty unlikely that you will get called upon them in twelve months’ time. Even if Danish physicist Niels Bohr is right and “prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”, when all said and done it probably does not matter too much.

So, while the likes of Wolfgang Munchau rift on the existential crisis faced by the European Union or a former Swedish foreign minister reflects on everything affecting the global economy, I have one confident and bold prediction that I am happy for you to hold me to at the end of the year. The British Chamber in Brussels will be the place for international business in Brussels to gain insights, build relationships and engage in the debates that matter in 2016.

Why is my crystal ball so clear? Five reasons; four are external to the Chamber, one internal. Here they are:

  1. Legislation is back

Providing insights and a platform for debate on legislation is what the British Chamber does best. And in many key areas, it’s time to get legislative. Vice President Šefčovič’s State of the Energy Union highlighted 2016 as the year of legislative action. Much of the Digital Single Market legislation is already proposed and will create some huge bun-fights. 54 new legislative and non-legislative measures relating to the Circular Economy were outlined just in time for Christmas. Not to mention the Single Market Strategy and of course continued action in areas like trade and competition. In 2016, we’ll have a full programme of events to help our members understand these developments.

  1. External challenges will continue to provoke new debates

We may be British in origin, but we are international in outlook. Most obviously 2016 will bring change in the US, as a successor to Barack Obama is elected. That much is a known. Unknown is what will be the latest iteration of the waves of crises lapping on the EU’s shores. No doubt sovereign debt, migration and security will remain subjects of debate. Whatever our next misfortune, the Chamber will be providing a platform for views and voices from both inside the Brussels Bubble and outside it to ensure our members get a fully rounded view on what it all means for them.

  1. UK referendum will make the British Chamber in Brussels more relevant than ever

The members of the British Chamber in Brussels are clear. We believe that the UK is better off in the EU, and the EU is better off with it in. In the run up to the UK’s referendum we’ll be providing a platform for the views of all actors on what kind of EU business and EU citizens need in the future. And irrespective of the result of the referendum, the British Chamber will remain a place where companies and individuals from all of Europe can contribute to a debate on the issues that matter to them in Brussels.

  1. Europe will need to come up with solutions

The strength of the British Chamber in Brussels is that its 240+ members are diverse both in terms of sectors and geographical footprint. Our members range from the likes of BASF, Facebook and Hitachi, to BT, Barclays and Rolls Royce. With the complexity and severity of the challenges facing Europe, only an approach which brings together the views and experiences of such a diverse range of actors is likely to bear fruit.

  1. The Chamber is in good health

With our new President, Thomas Spiller of the Walt Disney Company, starting his first full year, we’re in a great position to provide the increasing value that members so keenly want from the Chamber. Members have noticed over recent years an increased professionalization of the Chamber, led by our Chief Executive Glenn Vaughan, both in terms of staff and facilities. As a result, we’ve attracted new members in 2015 including BMW, KBC , Deloitte and Sodexo. In 2016 existing members can expect more value from a packed programme. New members can expect a warm welcome.

Of course, in the words of Abraham Lincoln “the best way to predict your future is to create it”. I would invite all members of the British Chamber to join me in 2016 to ensure that my prediction comes true. After all, as I repeat on a regular basis at events, it’s your Chamber not mine.

James Stevens

Chair of the EU Committee

Next week, you’ll be hearing from Amelie Coulet, Chair of our young professionals network, Brussels New Generation.

Internal Market Summit

2016 marks the 23rd anniversary of the establishment of the Internal Market, but how far have we actually come in integrating a fully functioning single market and what barriers still exist? To answer this question the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium brought together key political, regulatory and industry stakeholders to examine the current state of the internal market and explore the key priorities moving forward.

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Carsten Bermig, member of the cabinet of Commissioner Bienkowska, kicked off with his keynote address. He emphasised the need for reform in order to give the Single Market a boost, particularly by implementing existing regulation, improving SME access to finance, and removing unjustified barriers to the provision of services across borders. This can boost the EU economy by two percentage points or more. Bermig also offered insights into Commissioner Bienkowska’s thinking, explaining her ambition to be remembered for making things work on the ground rather than for adding new rules.

The first panel on the Internal Market for Goods witnessed an in-depth discussion between the panellists and the audience. Maria Spiliopoulou-Kaparia, Deputy Head of Unit at DG GROW charged with enforcement, emphasised the need for information and transparency, adding that the Commission is considering adopting an information collecting tool that would assist in enforcing regulation. GMOs featured heavily throughout the session, but, as Daniel Bunch, Deputy Head of Unit at DG GROW, stressed, it is difficult to act at the European level, because GMOs appear in many fields, many of which are not harmonised. Genevra Forwood of White & Case LLP argued for the Commission to return to its core task of guarding the treaties and pursuing infringements, while underlining the debilitating cost of an infringement procedure on most European SMEs. The panel was moderated by the President of the British Chamber Thomas Spiller.

The members of the second panel on the Internal Market for Services quickly established the priority of liberalising the cross-border trade in services. Jürgen Tiedje, Head of Unit at DG GROW, emphasised that the Commission would not seek to reopen the Services Directive, while Jeroen Hardenbol of Business Europe underwrote Mr Tiedje’s analysis that many barriers remain due to diverse interpretation and application of regulations on the ground. Craig Burchell of Xerox made a number of well received observations, including that the phrase ‘digital economy’ does no justice to an economy that is entirely digital, and that in the age of internet every SME is a potential multinational. Jürgen Tiedje generally agreed, but added that new regulation should leave leeway for companies that do not want to operate abroad. This panel was also presided over by Mr Spiller.

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The third panel on Enforcement of EU Law directly concerned many in the audience. Speaking under Chatham House rules, panellists included Despina Spanou, Director for Consumer Affairs at DG JUST, Karl von Kempis, Head of Unit at the Secretariat General, Nathalie Moll of Europabio, and Bill Batchelor of Baker&McKenzie. The panel agreed that legal enforcement can be improved across the board. Some panellists argued that the Commission has to be careful of losing out of sight its responsibility to look after the internal market, perhaps even assisting those member states whose resources are already stretched somewhat thin. The panel also noted that EU regulation is no longer exclusively made in Brussels by the Commission, which means associations and other stakeholders should really be talking across Europe. The panel was moderated by James Stevens, Chair of the EU Committee of the British Chamber.

Lowri Evans, Director General of DG GROW and advisor to the British Chamber, closed the Summit by asking a simple question: “Why a Single Market Strategy?” Her answer was equally succinct. The internal market has not been completed, and Europe needs to change. We must make every effort to improve the functioning of the product, services, financial and digital markets that will drive growth and job creation for years to come. Yet she also stressed that the European Commission can no longer go it alone. Every actor that agrees with the Commission’s analysis and agenda must raise their voice in support of the Single Market Strategy.

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