Sunday, 7 December 2008

The silent bubble

"Discuss with the EU's elite and be inspired by America's best": this was the motto of the European Agenda Summit 2008 held in Brussels on Wednesday 3 and Thursday 4 December at the Renaissance Hotel — a five-star Marriott located at a stone throw from the European Parliament. Most of the 200 participants attending the event were professional lobbyists moving in the Brussels' bubble, but a few Commission officials and MEPs' assistants were also present.

After paying a substantial fee — €590 for a professional lobbyist but... twice the price for non-members of the bubble — participants were able to both socialise and attend presentations on successful lobbying examples, workshops and keynote speeches on various lobbying and political communication issues, with lobbying transparency and the Obama campaign being two central themes.

On Wednesday, former Commission official turned lobbyist John Duhig explained how, while working for Eamonn Bates Europe on behalf of a small US company selling cancer detection technologies, he successfully lobbied the EU Presidency to lobby... MEPs to prepare a report on combatting cancer. He then lobbied the rapporteur of the Environment and Health committee, members of this committee and the whole Parliament to get support for a discreet amendment just asking to recognise the role of "new technologies that impact upon the field of cancer screening". That was enough, he said, to open up new market opportunities to his client.

Then Eamonn Bates himself, lobbying for another small US company producing an alternative to phthalates called Citroflex A4, outlined his strategy to ban phthalates in the EU and make Citroflex A4 the first non-phthalate plasticiser approved by the Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment (CSTEE).

Jacek Siwek from British American Tobacco explained how long and indirect the lobbying road can be on taxation issues (detours via member states, industry federations, etc.), and Christof Klitz from Volkswagen confirmed that job losses were always a good argument to make politicians bow down.

However, apart from listing a set of rather obvious "tips", the presentations of "best cases" by the "EU's elite" lobbyists addressing other lobbyists remained rather cryptic: no names of clients, no dates, no special lobbying techniques to achieve influence, and more importantly no clear evidence of success, were revealed.

The only notable exception was by Michel Troubetzkoy, head of EADS Brussels office and director of the lobby group Club Europe et Défense. He explained that the European Defence Agency (EDA) was just EADS' baby. He produced documents showing that the organisation chart he had proposed for the agency was 95% similar to the one finally adopted by the Council of the EU. To help EADS reach that goal, Troubetzkoy said his company enjoyed "direct contact with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing" and a "very easy access" to Michel Barnier. The former was then president of the constitutional Convention on the Future of Europe (which proposed the creation of the EDA), the latter served as Commissioner for regional policy (1999-2004) and as Foreign Minister of France afterwards.

The two-day event was organised by European Agenda Magazine, which is published by an organisation describing itself as "the lobbying and event platform for professional life in Brussels", and was sponsored, among others, by PR giant Hill & Knowlton, US transnational Dow Chemical, a private club of Brussels "bubblers" gathering in a disco every Thursday evening, and a company selling access to a database "of over 20,000 power brokers in and around European politics".


Friday, 10 October 2008

Industry wants to shape EU youth to its needs, Commission agrees

The European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) wants to develop synergies between schools and enterprise in response to the current shortage of mathematics, science and technology (MST) graduates. Without this ‘human capital’ needed to fuel their research and development, EU-based companies believe it will be difficult to boost European growth and create jobs, as promised by the Lisbon agenda.

Media non grata

The ERT is one of the most powerful business lobbies in Brussels, gathering the 45 chief executives of flagship European firms (Total, BASF, Nestle, E.ON, Shell, Renault...). ERT presented its solution in detail at a ‘multi-stakeholder’ meeting held last week (2 October) in Brussels. A hundred or so representatives from business, academia, education and government attended the event, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potočnik.

Journalists were not allowed to attend the speeches and debates. Instead, a press release was issued at the end of the day. “The business and education sectors are two worlds that are unfamiliar. We prefer that this initial contact is made with some privacy”, ERT spokeswoman Abigail Jones explained.

Spread the “Jet-Net model” at EU level

But what does ERT exactly advocate? The widespread use in the European Union of what could be called the “Jet-Net model”, under which member companies send employees into schools to talk about techno-industrial career opportunities and host student visits and practical projects.

Launched in 2002 by a handful of Dutch multinationals (Shell, Philips, Unilever, AkzoNobel...), the Jet-Net initiative now yearly reaches more than 33,000 students and 300 science and maths teachers in 150 secondary schools — a third of all Dutch secondary schools.

In Germany, a similar programme called WissensFabrik (“Factory of Knowledge”) was launched in 2005 by major German multinational companies like BASF, Bosch, ThyssenKrupp, etc. Its target audience, this time, is schoolchildren aged 6 to 12.

Innovation camps’ and ‘Discovery boxes’

The ERT also supports initiatives by individual members, which are generally carried out within the framework of their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes. Nokia, for example, organises ‘innovation camps’ for youth aged 14 to 19 in partnership with Junior Achievement Young Enterprise (JA-YE) Europe. Recognised by the Commission’s DG Enterprise as ‘Best Practice in Entrepreneurship Education’, JA-YE Europe describes itself as “Europe’s largest provider of enterprise education programmes” and claims to have reached 2.6 million students in 40 countries in 2007. Born in the USA during the First World War, the scheme is now supported by more than 100 leading transnational companies (Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Toyota, McDonald’s, Citigroup, ExxonMobil, EDF, Ernst & Young...), governments (USA, Switzerland ...), the Soros Foundation, the World Bank and the European Commission.

Siemens, for its part, distributes its ‘Siemens Discovery Box’, teaching material for free to nurseries to introduce preschool children (3-6 years old) to electricity and energy. The German electronics and engineering giant has also designed educational CD-ROMs on topics like the light, the hearing or Einstein for teenagers that have been endorsed by the German Association for Pedagogy.

School curricula to meet employers’ needs

“ERT member companies are determined to strengthen long term commitments to supporting Europe’s schools, teachers and universities”
, said Volvo CEO and ERT Vice Chairman Leif Johansson. “Businesses need to work closely with schools to put MST into meaningful life and career contexts, provide access to role models and keep teachers informed of what MST careers are”, he added. In order to “reach more students and teachers”, he stressed the need to “build on what already exists”, like the Jet-Net and WissensFabrik initiatives.

ERT Chairman Jorma Ollila, Chairman of Nokia and Shell, called for “the establishment of National and European support infrastructure for next best practice”. Indeed industry, which finances most of these programmes, mainly to boost its public image, would like to see Brussels pay for them.

This could become reality in the coming months and years. The European Commission supports ERT’s strategy. “There needs to be a continuous dialogue between the business and education worlds, to make sure that the curricula meet employers’ needs”, Barroso said in his speech.“But also to ensure that the ideas of our young students can be more easily transformed into economic and social values.”

Education to serve competition

The Commission President also delivered his conception of education in the 21st century: “giving every young person the chance to develop their talents and abilities to help us build a competitive Europe”. A utilitarian vision that could just come from a memorandum written by the ERT itself.

Last year, to combat young people’s apparent lack of interest in science, an ‘expert group’ set up by the Commission recommended shifting away from deductive science teaching to inquiry-based methods. This would create “opportunities for involving firms, scientists, researchers, engineers, universities, local actors such as cities, associations, parents and other kinds of local resources”, wrote the group headed by former socialist French Prime Minister, now MEP, Michel Rocard. So far, only industry managed to get involved in this new EU education paradigm...