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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.

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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

Since the terror threat in Brussels, leading to the subsequent lock-down which then inspired Mr Trump to dub the city a ‘hellhole’, not to mention last week’s EU reform negotiations and the tabloid media storm that ensued: It’s fair to say that Belgium and Brussels has had it’s fair share of attention this winter, and it’s been all but rosy. We’ll be setting all that straight this week though as Glenn, our CEO, tells us it’s really not all that bad.

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Belgium is a valuable market and an attractive place to invest, and do business. With only 11 million people it’s roughly equal with China as a market for British exports and an ideal launch pad to the rest of the EU.

The security emergency at the end of 2015 gave us all a reminder that there are real threats to the prosperity and security that most Europeans take as normal. Even Belgium is not immune. That’s why I have been keen to work with our friends at AmCham Belgium and the Belgium Japan Association to make sure that business in our own countries, and worldwide, are well informed about the situation here. Tomorrow, we’ll published an open letter, with the support of 13 other national chambers of commerce in Belgium, highlighting the continued attractiveness of Belgium.

The importance of business between Belgium and Britain is no flash in the pan. The British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium was founded here in 1898 and bilateral business continues to grow. To see that, you only have to look at the successful British and Belgian companies (large and small) recognised in our Golden Bridge Export Awards in recent times.

British investment, and that of the wider international business community, makes a big contribution to jobs and prosperity. With their many nationalities, the British Chamber’s member companies are a great representation of that international business community, directly employing more than 120,000 people here.

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While we all want and expect emerging economies to become more important trading partners in the future, Europe will continue to be hugely important to Britain for a very long time. To illustrate the point, Belgium recently jumped back above China (if only temporarily) as Britain’s 6th largest export market.

Since just Belgium on its own is so important to the UK, it’s no surprise that a clear majority of our members worry that leaving the EU would be bad for the British economy. Our job here in Brussels is to provide a platform that ensures our members understand the debate and its implications, and can plan how they will respond.

We’re planning an active programme of events over the period up to the referendum and plenty of opportunities for members to share their views with, and learn from, their peers.

Keep an eye out this week for a full press release!

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.

Golden Bridge

With the announcement of this year’s Golden Bridge awards fast approaching, we’re providing a last look at the candidates before the awards ceremony in London next week. The awards recognise the achievements of companies making the successful leap from the UK to the Belgian market and from the Belgium and Luxembourg markets to the UK.

Can you tell us a little bit about what Syx Automation does?

Syx Automations delivers innovative high-end software solutions to the leisure industry. We provide the leisure market with cost-effective, integrated products that will help improve the  business operations and the guest experience. In addition to the ReCreateX software platform Syx Automations also offers access control systems, kiosks, mobile applications and IT infrastructure.

ReCreateX is available as client-server application, as well as in the cloud.

What has been your marketing strategy in the UK over the last couple of years?

We’ve been working on building brand awareness through our participation at different exhibitions aimed at the leisure industry, Media campaigns, and by promoting cooperation with first pilot clients

Why are you applying for the Golden Bridge Awards, and why do you think you should win?

As a BLCC partner since the start of our Ltd company in the UK we look at the Golden Bridge Award as a confirmation of our success in the UK market and as a recognition for all our work done so far.

As a small West Flemish SME we mainly based our UK ambition on gut feeling. We do not have the enterprise budgets for large scale market research. Growing naturally (not through M&A) takes time.

Time in which we have invested money, and will continue to do so. As we are mainly focused on the governmental tender based markets, sales processes tend to take several years (RFI / PQQ / TENDER)

Until now we succeeded in our plans. With only a handful of full time employees we managed to convince international leisure organizations such as The London Shard and Dreamland Margate, as well as large local governments (Norfolk County Council and Argyll and Bute CC)  and museums as the Royal Greenwich Maritime Museums and the Horniman museum.

Join us at the 2015 Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards to celebrate the best of Belgian, Luxembourg and British business. The awards, now in their 19th year, aim to promote trade between the UK and the Belux countries, and to promote the best and brightest in this dynamic and growing market. The awards will be hosted at a gala dinner in London on 26 November at the BLCC Clubhouse Ballroom. You can register for the event here! Don’t forget that for those travelling to London from the continent, an exclusive Eurostar discount is available. Please contact events@blcc.co.uk for details of how to book.

Golden Bridge

With the announcement of this year’s Golden Bridge awards fast approaching, we’re providing a last look at the candidates before the awards ceremony in London next week. The awards recognise the achievements of companies making the successful leap from the UK to the Belgian market and from the Belgium and Luxembourg markets to the UK.

Can you tell us a bit about what your company does?

We work in partnership with clients across the globe, providing a multitude of training services. Our expertise has expanded beyond our origins in automotive, with experience in the hospitality, cosmetics and technology sectors. We believe that while training tools have evolved, the distance learning guides being replaced by online learning, the heart of learning has remained the same. Ignition provides bespoke training solutions to some of the most successful companies in the world from our bases in Belgium, Paris and London. In the future, we will continue to deploy innovative solutions, using the latest techniques and technologies to add value to our business and our clients. We are proud that an agency from such humble beginnings continues to work alongside many of the world’s

What adaptations, if any, have you made to your products or services specifically for the Belgian market?

We appreciated that to successfully offer our services in Belgium, we needed to have a permanent base here, staffed with a dedicated customer-facing team.

On the one hand, we brought our UK expertise to Belgium, in the form of our English-native skill which our customers in HQ’s welcomed warmly. This has been key over the years to follow, as we produce all our content in English to then be localized by the national markets across Europe. In the process, we recognised that we needed to adapt our ‘language’ to suit a more cosmopolitan audience for our work in Belgium. For example, this meant sometimes replacing English idioms or phrases with a more Euro-friendly language.

On the other hand, our Event organization skills for which the UK is renowned across Europe, have been an invaluable asset and a clear advantage over local competitors.

What has been your marketing strategy in Belgium over the last three years?

We have enjoyed considerable growth through organic means – within our existing and loyal customer base.
Consolidating our position and services over the last three years has brought consistent year on year growth in Europe. Our aim is to continue to build this momentum by sharing our novel methods with a wider customer base.

What are your future plans for business development in Belgium?

We are proud to report customer loyalty close to 100%, with consistently high levels of customer satisfaction. However, we recognize the need to grow and diversify by attracting new customers. To this end, we are currently seeking to employ an expert in our new business development function.

Join us at the 2015 Golden Bridge Trade & Export Awards to celebrate the best of Belgian, Luxembourg and British business. The awards, now in their 19th year, aim to promote trade between the UK and the Belux countries, and to promote the best and brightest in this dynamic and growing market. The awards will be hosted at a gala dinner in London on 26 November at the BLCC Clubhouse Ballroom. You can register for the event here! Don’t forget that for those travelling to London from the continent, an exclusive Eurostar discount is available. Please contact events@blcc.co.uk for details of how to book.

Dave Sinardet

Dave Sinardet is a Professor of Political Science at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), specialised in federalism, nationalism and multi level governance. He is also a columnist for De Tijd and La Libre Belgique. This week he writes his analysis on the issue of Brexit in light of the UK’s looming referendum.

The importance of the upcoming UK referendum on EU membership cannot be overestimated. For both Britain and the EU, much will be at stake on the day, somewhere before the end of 2017, when British citizens will have to answer the question ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?’

The UK may not have been one of the founding members of the EU, nor one of the most passionate, and it may not be part of the Euro, it has been part of the club since 1973. The fact that such a long-time member state would vote to leave the EU can become a political precedent that can reinforce the political strength of Eurosceptics in many other European countries. Moreover, Britain remains an important player in foreign policy. Even though some European federalists hope that without the UK it would be easier to further integrate the EU – most notably on the social level, it looks more likely that a Brexit could inflict serious damage on the European project.

However, the impact of a Brexit might very well be stronger for the UK. Economically, but also politically. There is a lot at stake for current Prime Minister David Cameron. He may have gotten a comfortable majority at the recent general election, one of his promises could mean the end of his leadership. Indeed, if in the referendum campaign he defends the staying in option – which is extremely likely – while the out would win, the result would probably force him to resign.

Also, leaving the EU could very well lead to the definitive break up of the United Kingdom itself. Given the fact that support for EU membership is (a bit) stronger in Scotland, it is clear that the Scottish National Party will use a Brexit to call for a new referendum on Scottish independence which could be won by Scottish separatists.

The Scottish referendum last year showed that referenda can create dynamics and produce results that are quite unexpected. The majority of Scots may have voted to stay in the UK, in the end the call was much closer than initially expected (and hoped by Cameron). The same goes for the many referendums on EU treaty change that were held in different European countries during the past decades. The French vote against the project of European constitution in 2005 is probably one of the most striking examples.

One of the disadvantages of referenda is that people may vote on other issues than the one actually at stake. And indeed, even though staying in or getting out of the EU will not have a fundamental impact on the migration issue, the fact that some recent polls suggest that a majority could vote for leaving the EU is probably linked to public concerns over the current refugee crisis.

If the broader migration debate continues to dominate, the changes that David Cameron could get out of a renegotiaton of the terms of Britain’s EU membership will not play a very important role in the referendum debate. In any case the actual changes will probably not strongly influence the result. Given that most British newspapers favour a Brexit it is now already clear that these changes will largely be framed as marginal. The fact that Cameron intially declared he wanted treaty change will not help him to develop a credible counterframe.

Another indicator that makes a Brexit vote a conceivable scenario is that the case for national sovereignty seems to be quite successful these days, as was shown by the Scottish referendum, but also by Catalonia’s recent election and by the rise of state nationalism and Euroscepticism in many European countries. This success is certainly in part fuelled by a frustration among many voters who feel they have lost grip on political decision-making. While this frustration is understandable and to a large extent correct, the question is whether a return to the nation state is the solution to the problem. In today’s globalised world, national sovereignty is more than ever an illusion. Not only that, while returning to national sovereignty may not give you more actual power, it can even make you lose some. If after a Brexit, the UK would still want full access to the European single market, it would still have to comply with most of the EU rules. However, it will have lost the power it has today to contribute determining them.

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