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By SARAH WHEATON
Tips, tales, traumas to @swheaton or [email protected] | View in your browser
HOWDY. Welcome to your first August edition (of several!) of EU Influence. Brussels’ European quarter is quiet as institutions close down for the summer — as do the restaurants that serve their staff power lunches and quick bites. We hope those dining spots use this time off to come into compliance with the rules requiring electronic payments. We found ourselves, as usual, scrambling for paper bills and rushing to the ATM last month, despite the Belgian government’s July 1 deadline for accepting cashless compensation. It’s not illegal, we suppose , to have a broken credit card reader in perpetuity — a classic Belgian solution all too many cafés seem to be embracing.
We’ll be running (almost) every week in August, so keep sending tips and job moves to [email protected] — and keep us in mind when you’re stuck in a long line at the airport.
ON THE RECORD
“I have interviewed both lobbyists and those being lobbied, and I think one of the first things I learned was that you never use the word lobbying in your introduction email.”
— Emilia Korkea-aho, lobbying researcher and professor at the University of Eastern Finland, in an interview with Follow the Money.
NEWS FLASH: The European Commission just rejected POLITICO’s freedom-of-information request for ex-Commissioner Neelie Kroes’ application to work for Uber before the end of her cooling-off period.
Just kidding, that’s not news. We would have been surprised if our request had been granted. Still, we find the rationale for the rejection to be — forgive the technical term — weaksauce.
First, a quick refresher: Kroes did indeed lobby for Uber shortly after her tenure as the EU’s digital commissioner, according to a trove of emails that ex-Uber lobbyist Mark MacGann shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The Commission has acknowledged that Kroes did ask permission, but withdrew her application after then-President Jean-Claude Juncker tipped her off that the Independent Ethical Committee had given a thumbs-down. The Commission says they’re studying Kroes’ response to the allegations, but the whole mess highlights major enforcement gaps in the EU’s ethics rules.
On Tuesday, the Commission formally rejected our request to see Kroes’ application. We’re still waiting to hear back about the communication from Juncker to her.
The rationale: Releasing a withdrawn application “would reveal to the public information and detailed exchanges on initially intended post-mandate professional activities which did not materialise following the withdrawal,” wrote the Commission’s Tatjana Verrier, to explain the denied documents request.
Except, uh, they did allegedly materialize.
Verrier adds that requests withdrawn prior to the adoption of a decision “are considered not to have been lodged.” She adds, “In consequence, no further follow up was given to them by the Commission.”
Except, uh, Juncker seems to have followed up.
The letter also has a lot of other stuff about protecting a former commissioner’s privacy, as well as protecting the company — or the person who ended up with the role that the commissioner might have taken — from any embarrassment or reputational damage. We imagine Uber is grateful for all these considerations by the EU executive.
Commission’s burden: In consequence, it’s the EU executive risking the reputational hit. “Denying the public the entirety of the information could skew citizens’ view of ethics oversight at EU level,” said Transparency International EU’s Vitor Teixeira. It ultimately makes scandals “more surprising” when they do come to light, he argued, “and ultimately degrades the trust put in institutions to protect the public interest.”
Known unknowns: Korkea-aho, the lobbying researcher, made a similar point in her Follow the Money interview. She’s studying the Commission’s decisions about officials’ revolving door requests, and she noted that there’s never been public evidence of the ethics committee reaching a negative decision. Is that because they’re a rubber-stamp, or because people always withdraw their applications before the opinion gets published? Who knows!
“The Commission would look a lot tougher if in between all those positive opinions there would sometimes be a negative opinion,” Korkea-aho noted.
THAT OTHER REVOLVING DOOR SCANDAL: Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder admitted he was meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Moscow. (He initially claimed to be on a Russian holiday.) Schröder urged Germany to reconsider its rejection of Nord Stream 2.
An anonymous lobbyist for a major food producer rocked this (somewhat ironic) fashion statement at The Good Lobby Summer Academy last month.
ETHICS BODY MOVES FORWARD
RENTRÉE ROUNDTABLE ON STANDARDS: The Commission is planning a meeting at a “technical level” with the other EU institutions in September to hash out plans for an independent ethics body, a spokesperson told EU Influence.
It’s a sign of incremental progress on an overarching committee that would apply common ethical standards across institutions. While the Uber Files might have added a bit of pressure, a peek at the feedback the Commission received from other EU institutions shows tepid assent, at best.
You first: The Commission will clearly have to lead the discussion, even though its own feedback to Parliament showed a lot of misgivings and weariness of the complications of applying a common standard without compromising the separation of powers.
We’ve obtained most of the replies. Here’s our TL;DR:
— Council of the EU: Ethics and transparency are great. But capitals “share the Commission’s view” that the ethics body would touch on “sensitive issues” and underline that its members are already subject to national ethics rules.
— European Court of Auditors: We can’t be part of this, since we might be called on to weigh in. But it’s a great idea for everyone else — in fact we’ve suggested it, too — and we’re happy to share our ideas. Such a body’s recommendations would provide a “useful reference point” for the ECA.
— Court of Justice of the European Union: We can’t be part of this, since we might be called on to weigh in, and we also cannot submit to ethics supervision by an external body “without compromising the fundamental principle of judicial independence. But a common understanding of how EU institutions fulfill ethical obligations, “if made accessible, could undoubtedly provide useful guidance” for our own ethical supervision.
— Committee of the Regions: We’re game! To talk, at least…
— European Central Bank: We’re game! To talk, at least, but we already feel good about our seven-year-old ethics committee. Chief Compliance and Governance Officer Roman Schremser will be your point man.
EU TECH COUP: When Brussels opens for business again in September, a familiar face will have changed roles, Pieter Haeck reports, boosting the lobbying power of EU-based tech companies.
SWITCHING SIDES: Victoria de Possoncurrently top policy player in the Brussels office of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (a DC-based lobby dominated by American tech giants), will take on the newly-created role of secretary-general at the EU Tech Alliance (EUTA), according to four people familiar with the matter.
Raising the EU tech profile: Over the past few years, European tech companies of all sizes (both established and stock-listed companies, like Spotify or Booking.com, and smaller upstarts, like Back Market and Vinted) have joined forces in the EU Tech Alliance, making sure their voices are heard in Brussels — which meant they primary weighed in on the platform regulation debate, with the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act.
A permanent position: Work at the EU Tech Alliance — which counts over 35 members after six years — was up until now taken up by “volunteering” executives from among its members.
With de Posson coming in as secretary-general (a vacancy that had been up since the end of March), EUTA will have a permanent representative in Brussels, which was described in the job ad as taking the alliance “to the next level.”
AWKWARD TIMING: CCIA is losing a key expert during the money time in different files of interest, like the implementation of the digital competition and content moderation rulebooks and the fight with Big Telecoms over who should pay for infrastructure.
Learn more: This week’s EU Confidential Podcast, hosted by tech reporter Samuel Stolten, will be devoted to the (potentially hostile) fight over telecoms contributions. Subscribe to get Thursday’s episode as soon as it’s out.
CONSULTING AND COMMS
— Adrian Garcia, a former strategist for Volt Europe and chief of the boutique consultancy Res Terrae, is joining Instinctif Partners as an account director.
— Instinctif Partners has also hired Jakub Hodek as an account executive, previously of TAS Europrojects.
— After a decade as Luxembourg‘s ambassador to the EU, Georges Friden is heading to London to represent the Grand Duchy in the UK, Luxemburger Wort reports.
— Marika Postthe spokesperson of the Estonian permanent representationis moving home after nine years to be special representative/ambassador-at-large for Baltic Sea cooperation. Succeeding her is Triin Oppiwho until now has worked as head of communications at the International Center for Defence and Security.
— Majlinda Dhuka is Albania‘s new chief negotiator for EU accession, replacing Zef Maziaccording to Exit News.
— Stefan Feltens, the president of the European Association of E-Pharmacies, joins the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacy in the EU as a co-director.
— Anna Wurm heads to EIT Health as a public affairs and stakeholder relations manager at EIT Healthvia Acumen Public Affairs.
— Valerio Demontis is the new public affairs coordinator for the European Renal Association.
— Alessandro Da Rold joins the cabinet of European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili as a public affairs adviser, while holding on to his gig as head of EU40 — The Network of Young MEPs.
— Guntram Wolffformer director of the Bruegel think tank, started as CEO and director at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
NOS EXCUSES: Last week’s newsletter mischaracterized the French Federation of Technologies’ stated purpose. FFTech aims to be a forum for French tech players in Brussels to mingle and get to know each other.
THANKS TO: Pieter Haeck, Lili Bayer, and Peter O’Brien; web producer Giulia Poloni and my editor Nicholas Vinocur.
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