Child rights — Transparency during corona — German side jobs scandalPOLITICO EU - Lili Bayer - 19/03/21
EUROPE’S CRISIS MANAGER (AND INCITER): As an ex-prime minister of Belgium, a country known for its fierce regional divisions and fractious government negotiations, European Council President Charles Michel likes to boast he is an expert in defusing political crises. At times, he also has a flair for instigating them. Read this inside look by David Herszenhorn.
DUTCH RESULTS: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is on course for a fourth term that could make him the Netherlands’ longest-serving head of government after a commanding general election victory this week. Eline Schaart has four takeawaysfrom election night.
LOBBYING THE EU
CHILD RIGHTS: The Commission is expected to present a new EU strategy on the rights of the child next week, along with a proposal for a Council recommendation on a European child guarantee. The guarantee is set to focus on actions to “support children in low income households,” said Elizabeth Gosme, director at COFACE Families Europe, a network of civil society organizations that focuses on the interests of children and families.
Services for kids: The child guarantee is expected to cover issues ranging from “free school meals to free or affordable early childhood education and care” as well as “free postnatal health examinations” and “services to prevent and fight homelessness of children and their families,” Gosme told EU Influence. She noted that even before the pandemic, one in four children were at risk of growing up in poverty or social exclusion.
And while children’s welfare is primarily the realm of national governments, Gosme said that the EU has a role to play, pointing to challenges surrounding the rights of children in the digital world and the role of the European Social Fund Plus in helping tackle childhood poverty. A coordinated strategy on the European level is “fundamental in terms of making sure that children and societies … get the support they need,” she said.
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AIRPORT AID PLEA: Airport lobby ACI Europe has written again to the Commission to urge it to rethink its rules on COVID-related support in a letter seen by POLITICO’s Mari Eccles. Unless the Commission “urgently clarifies” that the usual state aid rules don’t apply, most airports will not be able to access Recovery and Resilience Facility funding for sustainability or digital projects, according to the letter sent this week by its Director General Olivier Jankovec.
How come? That’s because under the normal rules, countries can only provide investment aid to airports with more than 5 million passengers a year “in very exceptional circumstances,” while some restrictions also apply for airports with fewer passengers. Jankovec says these rules are “at odds” with the EU’s Green Deal objectives and the Commission’s own plan for greening airports.
COMING SOON: The 2030 EU Forest Strategy — a key part of the bloc’s bioeconomy drive — is expected to be announced before the summer. “We hope to present the Forest Strategy before the summer to continue entrenching the shift to the circular economy,” Joanna Drake, deputy director general of the Commission’s Directorate General for the Environment, said at a POLITICO event on Tuesday. The public consultation on the strategy is open until April 19.
TRANSPARENCY DURING CORONA: As the pandemic continues, there is growing debate over the extent of transparency decision-makers should provide — from vaccine contracts to EU officials’ virtual meetings. EU Influence caught up with Michiel van Hulten, director of Transparency International EU, who says that accountability should not be sacrificed during a crisis.
Vaccine procurement: “We’ve been advocating from the start that there should be transparency on contracts,” he said. “You often see that in a crisis, such as this one, transparency and accountability are the first victims. And that may seem like a sensible short-term decision, when you are having to make urgent decisions on how to address the pandemic,” he added. “But what we’re finding is that a little bit further down the line, the lack of transparency and accountability is actually undermining the achievement of the policy objectives that the Commission and member states are setting.”
Wide focus: Transparency International’s Brussels office has busy months ahead. “Campaigning for more transparency in EU policymaking, campaigning for greater political integrity in the EU institutions, that’s an agenda that is here to stay,” van Hulten said. “But there are always new things to do and new issues that pop up — and part of that has to do with the fact that the personnel changeover in Brussels is so great. Every five years you get a big influx of people from all over Europe who come from different political cultures and traditions,” he said, adding that part of Transparency International’s work is raising awareness.
Eyes on ethics: One particular area of focus now, however, is ethics oversight: “The key issue for us in the coming months is the discussion on setting up an independent EU ethics body, which is something that we’ve advocated for a long time,” van Hulten said, adding that the organization is also keeping a close eye on issues such tax transparency for multinationals.
AROUND THE EU
GERMAN SIDE JOBS SCANDAL, CONT’D: Longtime German Bundestag member Joachim Pfeiffer is the latest Christian Democrat politician to face questions about his part-time work outside politics. Die Zeit reported on Wednesday that when they called Pfeiffer’s consultancy firm — one of two companies he founded — his parliamentary constituency office picked up the phone. Pfeiffer did not respond to questions from Zeit. A lawyer told the newspaper the numbers were not the same, but Die Zeit says it has screenshots of official registers proving the constituency phone number was listed for both companies.
Background: A growing scandal over side jobs and alleged corruption is engulfing Angela Merkel‘s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), just as Germany enters campaign mode ahead of September’s general election. The CDU this weekend suffered significant losses in two regional votes and is slipping in the polls.
New allegations keep on coming. On Thursday, another CSU lawmaker quit over conflict-of-interest allegations. And on Wednesday, Der Spiegel reported that prosecutors were investigating Alfred Sauter, a former Bavarian justice minister and current CSU member of the regional parliament, over suspected bribery of officials as part of a wider probe into corruption allegations involving the procurement of coronavirus face masks. Sauter, a lawyer, told a regional paper earlier this month that he had drawn up a contract for a face mask business with the Bavarian health ministry last year. The ex-minister has denied all wrongdoing.
NEW NETWORK: The Good Lobby has set up a new group called The Good Lobby Profs to “act as a rapid response mechanism to uphold the rule of law across the continent.” The group, which is made up of over 60 academics from more than 30 countries, will “constantly monitor the respect of the rule of law and provide pro bono expert analysis, support as well as engage in (good) lobbying activities with the view of promoting, defending and strengthening respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights,” according to the organization.
NEW CLUB: The Nine, a private members’ club for women, will soon be opening on Rue Archimède. Founder Georgia Brookstold EU Influence that the club — which is set to feature events, workspace and food — is set to open in September. Men will be allowed — as guests.
Piero Benassi has been named Italy’s new permanent representative to the EU.
Hughes Beaudouin has taken over as spokesperson for Renew Europe President Dacian Cioloș and the group.
Australia’s Mathias Cormann was selected to head the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), beating Sweden’s Cecilia Malmström, a former EU trade commissioner.
Grzegorz Drozd is now leading the strategic foresight team at the European Commission’s secretariat general.
Damijan Fišer has started a new role as Coreper II spokesperson at the Permanent Representation of Slovenia to the EU. He is on loan from the European Court of Auditors for the upcoming Slovenian presidency of the Council of the EU.
Jacques Foul left FleishmanHillard and is now a social media strategist at Ogilvy Social.Lab Belgium.
Werner Langhals, the longest-serving member of the Mertens group, is retiring.
Doriane Marin has joined public affairs consultancy #SustainablePublicAffairs.
FleishmanHillard Brussels has named Máximo Miccinilli as senior vice president and new head of its energy and climate team. Miccinilli has previously worked at think tank CERRE, European Aluminium and Burson-Marsteller.
Jonathan Taylor, a former vice president of the European Investment Bank and director general at HM Treasury, has joined Afore Consulting as a senior adviser to work on banking and financial services, as well as sustainability issues.
Magnolia Tovar has joined Clean Air Task Force as director of zero-carbon fuels policy in Europe.
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