EU Influence: Broken science debate — Unlocking docs — Revolving full circle
POLITICO – Citizens’ access to documents is “the most concrete manifestation of the principle of openness and its corollary, transparency of the EU”
HOWDY. Welcome to EU Influence, where we’re watching the real test to see if this whole return to normal thing is actually going to happen. Gone are the receptions in airy courtyards, the panel discussions in steamy tents. We’re back indoors, and we’re getting the sniffles. Even without another COVID wave, is this sustainable?
Last week, a new GP suggested EU Influence get a flu shot. Your author remarked that this is one of those other big differences between the U.S. and Europe: Across the ocean, companies hire services to set up in a boardroom for the day to inoculate employees hassle-free. In Brussels, it’s been a pain to get the jab — EU Influence isn’t in one of the official risk groups.
But I should be, the doctor said — given how many people I meet as part of my job. This should not be construed as medical advice, but rather, a reflection on what it means to be in a high-contact profession like journalism, lobbying and consultative policymaking in this strange epoch.
DON’T FORCE IT
Why do people in EU policy use so much jargon in their external messaging?— Laura Shields 🇪🇺 🇬🇧 🇧🇪🇺🇸 (@mediawhizz) October 3, 2022
I've found 9 reasons. I need a 10th.
Any thoughts? pic.twitter.com/qbKHCm2ufT
🙊🙉🙈: Three top sources of angst emerged during an exchange I had last week with the Society of European Affairs Professionals: 1) the politicization of EU policymaking (ie becoming less technical); 2) calls to restrict who’s eligible to even make their case; and 3) a perceived indifference to some scientific evidence.
They’re all interrelated. And if you’re a lobbyist for — forgive my shorthand — “the baddies,” (fossil fuels, tobacco, agribusiness, etc.) you’re under extra pressure this week.
Case in point: Following revelations out of Washington that Big Oil backed climate targets in public but pooh-poohed them in private, green NGOs have fresh evidence that the fossil fuel industry “cannot be a trusted partner” on energy and climate challenges. In a letter to top MEPs this week, five environmental and transparency NGOs called for public hearings on Big Oil lobbying and new conflict-of-interest rules to combat the industry’s “undue influence.”
Siren: The letter argues that the EU Energy Platform’s engagement with fossil fuel companies creates a “conflict of interest similar to the one that existed between the tobacco industry and the [World Health Organization] before restrictions were implemented. Indeed, restrictions on tobacco lobbying — a response to decades of outright lying by an industry that sells addictive, dangerous products — make it nearly impossible for that industry to access the Commission on most issues. It’s not a world energy lobbyists want to live in.
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT SCIENCE: A new paper from Daniel Guéguen and Vicky Marissen — both lawyers, senior staff at the management consultancy EPPA and visiting professors at the College of Europe — looks at what’s behind the disconnect on scientific decision making in the EU. Drawing from debates over climate change, glyphosate, taxonomy and GMOs, they diagnose a few key issues:
— “[W]hen science passes through the prism of public policy and governance, the range of factors liable to dilute the ‘ideal of objectivity’ multiplies.”
— “[T]he reality is that scientific research in the modern era has often been carried out with a view to promoting specific political, economic and/or societal goals: commercial expansion, military development, etc.”
— The Commission “is not creating its own evidence as such, but is gathering evidence generated by others and interpreting that evidence according to its own policy priorities.”
— “The stance based on ‘my science is more valid than your science’, most familiar in the fields of tobacco, fossil fuels and plant protection, has the ultimate effect of rendering science subjective rather than objective, weakening its credibility and even generating ‘anti-science’ attitudes among the public.”
Ideas for reform: The authors proposed ways to improve science- and evidence-based decision-making without messing with the treaties. They are, surprise surprise, technical. They include a white paper on science in EU legislation; an administrative code to avoid a case-by-case approach to files; and boosting the Joint Research Centre and the Scientific Advice Mechanism.
It’s up to you: More compelling were Guéguen and Marissen’s instructions to the influence sector. They tell experts to “learn that their high technical competence is not enough. They must anticipate, avoid being systematically defensive, and propose without fearing to oppose at times.”
ON THE RECORD
“[T]hink tanks in the U.S., which as opposed to other parts of the world…have real power to determine the direction of the political conversation. We are coordinating, cooperating very closely with think tanks of all political stripes in this country.”
— EU Ambassador to the U.S. Stavros Lambrinidis in an interview with POLITICO’s EU Confidential podcast, on reasons he’s not sweating the results of the midterm elections.
DOCUMENT REQUEST UPGRADE: The Commission has unveiled a spiffy new system for requesting documents, and it’s likely to be a pleaser for anyone (like us) asking for access on the regular. For those with an EU Login for the institutions, you can now link requests to your account, and track and appeal through the portal. For newbies, the portal has tips on how to make the request.
Asked and answered: The Commission has typically received between 6,000 and 7,000 requests for documents annually in recent years, but that figure went up to 8,000 in 2020. At the same time, the proportion of requests actually granted has been dropping.
Not impressed: Citizens’ access to documents is “the most concrete manifestation of the principle of openness and its corollary, transparency of the EU” writes Alberto Alemanno, HEC Paris law professor (and founder of The Good Lobby), in a report for Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs. But the EU’s “systematic delays” in responding and “administrative complexities” of the appeals process undermine the system’s usefulness as a tool for citizen engagement, he writes. Reform of the underlying regulation, Alemanno says, is “long overdue.”
DUTCH DELETE-GATE: Prime Minister Mark Rutte has failed to properly store text messages for years, a government watchdog determined. The problem: With minimal storage on his phone, Rutte forwarded messages he thought needed to be archived, but he and his staff made “too strict a selection.” More from NOS.
MEP MEETINGS: Last week, we reported on eight Parliament committee chairs failing to report their meetings with interest groups in the official register. ENVI chair and French Renew MEP Pascal Canfin finally got back to us. His answer, like several others: He’s been posting his meetings on Twitter, even if the registry is not up to date. (As of Tuesday evening, the last reported meeting was in May 2020.)
Reminder: There are more than 700 MEPs. If all y’all use your own unique snowflake system to report meetings, it doesn’t actually serve the mission of transparency.
REVOLVING ALL THE WAY AROUND: Squire Patton Boggs hired Gorka Navea as a competition law partner in Brussels and Madrid, direct from the Commission’s DG COMP, where he’d been working since earlier this year.
But this isn’t his first time through the passerelle. In 2018, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati advertised hiring him direct from DG COMP. That stint had been longer; he’d been a “senior cartel enforcer,” the firm noted. According to LegalDealmaker, he’d been No. 2 on DG Comp’s specialized cartel board since 2015, and previously oversaw various merger and cartel investigations in the cabinet of Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia.
LEGAL STRATEGY: After 14 years at ClientEarth, spearheading a strategy that helped pry open the doors of the EU institutions for environmental campaigners, Anaïs Berthier took to the helm of the NGO’s Brussels office on October 1. My colleague Louise Guillot caught up with the woman allies describe as the go-to person for taking the EU institutions to court.
Opening marathon: Berthier’s first task with the legal charity back in 2008 would turn into a decade-long legal fight and a major win for environmental NGOs: She drafted a complaint to the U.N. Aarhus Convention on access to justice in environmental matters, arguing the EU was in breach of the convention because it only allowed a very limited number of EU acts to be challenged. ClientEarth eventually won its case, which led to the revision of the Aarhus Regulation, granting NGOs and individuals the right to challenge a wider variety of environmental decisions. “It was about ensuring that we have these procedural rights to challenge decisions of European institutions,” Berthier said. Recently, ClientEarth went after the EU’s list of sustainable investments — known as the EU Taxonomy — arguing that the Commission’s decision to include natural gas, but also bioplastics and woody biomass on the list was not in line with the bloc’s environmental and climate rules.
Lawyering up: Green campaigners say ClientEarth has been an influential partner to NGOs in Brussels. “We bring the legal teeth, clearly,” she said, adding that it lends “credibility to the organizations” in the eyes of the European institutions. “You need to speak the same language than the ones you want to influence.”
Litigation and advocacy: No other Brussels-based NGO has brought more cases to the EU’s top court than ClientEarth. “When we see that the advocacy work doesn’t pay off … that we are still not being listened to, then, you resort to the judge,” Berthier said. Climate litigation is on the rise more broadly, with NGOs across the bloc successfully forcing governments to step up their efforts against climate change, including in France and the Netherlands.
What’s next: In her new role, Berthier said she wants to keep working closely with NGOs and explore new areas for litigation. She noted a “new trend” of greenwashing cases, referring to cases brought against TotalEnergies and the KLM airline for advertising their activities as greener than they are.
GREEN CLUBHOUSE: The consultancy #SustainablePublicAffairs is pulling several of its clients into one space at its new offices on Rue de la Loi 56, calling it the SustainableHub. Founder Willem Vriesendorp aims to brand it as the “Permanent Representation of Sustainability to the EU,” hosting Cleantech for Europe, Carbon Gap, ZOE Institute for Future-fit Economies and de Roos Advocaten. A fellow commuter to that stretch of Brussels roadway, we welcome you all to the block — and wish you well adjusting to the polluted Loi canyon compared to the airy greenery of #SustainabilityPublicAffairs’ previous space, an Art Nouveau mansion on Place Ambiorix. Vriesendorp said it was getting too small.
If September was for new joiners, October is clearly the month of promotions. Congratulations, one and all — hope you got a raise along with that fancy new title.
— Teresa Babuscio is Corteva Agriscience’s new head of government and industry affairs for the EMEA region, via Bayer Crop Science.
— Gert-Jan Oplaat is the new president of AVEC, the Voice of the European Poultry Meat Sector, succeeding Paul Lopez.
— The Institute for European Environmental Policy – IEEP has appointed Eero Yrjö-Koskinen as its next executive director. Currently director of the Finnish Institute (FinnAgora) in Hungary, he’ll start in November, as acting chief Ben Allen returns to his role as research director.
— Ruben Davis is a new policy officer at Cleantech for Europe.
CONSULTING & COMMS
— Ayrton Thevissen is now a partner at FGS Global.
— Christoph Mielke was promoted to deputy managing director at APCO Worldwide.
— Ward Scheelen is escaping the Brussels bubble, leaving Dr2 Consultants for pastures anew in Australia.
— Eleni Kallea is now a liaison officer at the DG COMMS’ unit for Interinstitutional Relations, Corporate Contracts & Europe Direct Contact Centre, via the European Service Network (ESN).
— BCW announced a slate of promotions: Dimitri Banas to director; Ekaterina Iarkova to senior account director; Irene Melian Armas to account director; Ashlee Jeoung to account manager; Elena Ammattelli to senior account executive; Daniel Amor Torres to senior account executive; Norberto Zamora to senior account executive; Clara Pacitti to senior account executive.
— Eleftheria Photiou leaves the Council of the EU to take a post as an EEAS political attaché to the OSCE in Vienna.
— Victor Bernabeu was promoted to director at Eurogas.
— DG SANTE has gone through a revamp. Organigram here, and a roundup of what it all means over at Morning Health Care, including a new role for Andrzej Rys as scientific adviser to Director General Sandra Gallina.
— Also at DG SANTE, Nicolas Pradalié is now a policy assistant to Gallina.
— Ann Marie Borg joins Acumen Public Affairs as associate director, via Hanbury Strategy.
— Philipp Goedecker, previously the German Farmers’ Association (DBV), joins the European Coordination Committee of the Radiological, Electromedical and Healthcare IT Industry (COCIR) as digital health senior manager. He replaces Giedre Kvedaraviciene, who is pursuing a PhD in health care economics at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. as Fulbright scholarship recipient.
— For your Swedish presidency prep: Anna Strandbacke Muhler moves from the Commission’s DG GROW to the Swedish perm rep, where she’s a counselor for industry policy.
— Hydro promoted Justyna Balbier to senior EU affairs manager & head of EU office
— Also at Hydro, Jostein Røynesdal is now head of EU Affairs. He replaces Rønnaug Sægrov Mysterud, who is switching to head of commercial offshore wind at Hydro REIN.
— Hume Brophy promoted Edward Strange to head of transport & mobility,
— French Renew MEP Sandro Gozi is the new president of the Spinelli Group of MEPs advocating for federal reform of the EU. He succeeds German Green MEP Daniel Freund.
— Giulia Olivieri is now an evaluation officer at the Commission’s DG REGIO, after a stint in DG INTPA.
— Google veteran Chiara Tomasi moves to Trainline as head of government relations in Brussels.
— Goran Gotev joined Okta as EMEA government affairs director, via BlackBerry.
— Free-market advocacy group Consumer Choice Center named former Hungarian MP Zoltán Kész a government affairs manager. More recently director of the Civitas Institute and a co-founder of the party that ran against Viktor Orban in the last election, Kész will travel between Hungary and Brussels, as well as Visegrad capitals.