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EU Public Affairs in times of COVID-19: three lessons from the Dr2 Academy

The COVID-19 pandemic that reached the European continent in the beginning of March this year disrupted the daily life of businesses in countless ways. Apart from serious public health implications, the pandemic has also restricted mobility and forced many Europeans to work from home. As policymakers have to adhere to COVID-19 related restrictions as much as others do, the dynamics of policymaking and advocacy have changed significantly. This requires organizations to adapt the way in which they influence policymaking by engaging in EU Public Affairs. Dr2 Consultants’ Dr2 Academy presents three lessons how COVID-19 changed EU Public Affairs.

1. Digital Public Affairs in times of lockdown

Confinement measures, border closures and epidemiological color coding throughout Europe has severely hampered cross-border mobility, making physical meetings (in Brussels) almost impossible. The Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU was required to facilitate Council meetings virtually and the European Parliament (EP) changed to remote voting during its plenary sessions. Following a controversial decision by EP President Sassoli earlier this month, Plenary sessions are taking place in Brussels (and not Strasbourg) at least until the end of 2020.

While industry representatives, lobbyists and other stakeholders used to meet Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in one of the several parliamentary coffee corners, speak to Commission staff around the Berlaymont building or attend various events to broaden their network and get insight information, the nature of these meetings has changed significantly. Nowadays, setting up Zoom or Skype calls with policymakers to discuss the latest information on ongoing files has become an essential instrument for effective EU Public Affairs in times of COVID-19.

Furthermore, events, conferences and receptions moved online too in the form of webinars. Although not a fully-fledged alternative to the spontaneity of physical events, online conferences usually designate a timeslot for networking. Digital meetings pose their own challenges. In order to successfully convey a policy message, the use of PowerPoint presentations and other digital tools have become increasingly important. As the current situation is likely to be maintained, organizations will have to invest time and resources in the effective use of the appropriate digital tools.

2. Changing dynamics in the EU institutions

The reliance on digital meetings and COVID-19 emergency procedures shifted policy priorities, which resulted in delays of several legislative initiatives. In the Council of the EU, where multiple meetings normally take place simultaneously, the Croatian Presidency could (for technical and safety related reasons) only host one meeting at a time. This led to a capacity reduction of 25% at the height of both the pandemic as well as the political cycle. Moreover, Trilogue meetings between the Council of the EU and the European Parliament were preferably not held digitally, leading to additional delays. The European Parliament, which organized extraordinary plenary sessions to vote on COVID-19 related contingency measures, also witnessed postponement of several committee meetings. Flagship events, such as the Digital Transport Days and EU Green Week have all been moved to online environments.

Since policymakers, industry representatives and other stakeholders all deal with the same changing issues and circumstances, organizations are recommended to adapt to changing policy agendas and deadlines, as well as to align KPI’s accordingly. Creativity in maintaining regular contact with (institutional) stakeholders by exploiting the latest digital tools is imperative for effective Public Affairs in times of COVID-19.

3. Adapting to the changing policy agenda

During the initial months of the COVID-19 outbreak, the European Commission focused on managing the short-term effects of the crisis. Crisis management combined with the new way of digital working also caused the Commission to revise its Work Program for 2020. The publication of several initiatives has been pushed back and some have been grouped together. Legislative files with a lower priority have been moved up in their timelines, while more urgent ones got a priority position. Public consultations have in some cases also been extended, enabling more time for input from stakeholders. In general, the measures related to the pandemic have led to a considerable shake-up and accompanying unpredictability of the policy agenda for 2020 and beyond.

To remain on top of the developments in Brussels, it will be crucial for businesses to invest in monitoring the most recent developments and policy agenda changes (Dr2 Consultants offers such monitoring services). This will enable organizations to respond quickly to policy developments and capitalize on the opportunities to represent their interests at EU level.

Dr2 Academy 

Dr2 Consultants’ Dr2 Academy offers services such as EU and Belgium Affairs Trainings, individual coaching to Public Affairs professionals and organizational advice on how to embed Public Affairs within your organization. Dr2 Consultants can be contacted for any questions on how to be effective in times of COVID-19.

Dr2 Academy logo

Traineeship Vacancy: Public Affairs Trainee

Job title: Public Affairs Trainee

Expiration date: 20 September 2020

Country/City: Belgium, Brussels

 

Company name: Dr2 Consultants

Contact name: Ward Scheelen

Contact e-mail address: w.scheelen@dr2consultants.eu

 

Company profile

Dr2 Consultants is a dynamic Brussels-based consultancy firm that provides companies, organizations and NGOs with guidance on EU and Belgian affairs (www.dr2consultants.eu) in the digital, transport and sustainability policy domains. We are looking for a highly-motivated Dutch-speaking trainee to assist our team.

Job description

  • Preparing background notes, briefings, reports, and articles;
  • Assisting consultants in conducting research, analysis and monitoring activities for their clients;
  • Assist consultants in the development and execution of Public Affairs and communication strategies;
  • Assisting consultants in their interest representation on behalf of their clients;
  • Assist and learn to influence political decision-making through the development and execution of Public Affairs strategies;
  • Assisting the Office Manager with day-to-day administrative duties.

Background and qualifications

  • Graduated from a Master’s degree in a relevant field such as European studies, Political Science, Communications or other relevant education;
  • Previous traineeship experience within the European Institutions and/or Public Affairs is an asset;
  • Language skills: Excellent spoken and written Dutch and English (Native-speaker level or equivalent). Knowledge of other languages would be an asset;
  • Strong PC skills (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc.);
  • Proactive and dynamic person with excellent communication and personal skills;
  • Flexible work attitude, hands-on mentality, able to work on multiple tasks simultaneously;
  • Sound interest in digital, transport and circular economy related policies at European (and Belgian) level.

Terms and conditions

Procedure

To apply please send your CV and cover letter (in English) explaining why you would be the right candidate for this position to: w.scheelen@dr2consultants.eu. Applications should be sent as soon as possible and no later than 20 September with ‘Application Public Affairs Trainee’ as subject line. Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

Summer recess – what’s next?

As EU leaders agreed on a new proposal for the new Multiannual Financial Framework and the Recovery Plan on 21 July, the European Parliament was given good food for thought over its summer recess. However, the new long-term budget is not the only priority on the EU agenda. The Commission is already chewing on a series of proposals to be expected later this year and in 2021. In fact, now is the moment to deliver input on some key, planned legislative proposals, as the Commission launched a series of public consultations that are open until after summer. Let’s have a look what is next after the 2020 summer recess.

Transport: smarter and greener

The green and digital transition as the twin priorities of the Von der Leyen Commission are also reflected in the upcoming transport initiatives. To deliver the ambitious European Green Deal climate neutrality objective, the mobility sector needs a 90% emission reduction by 2050. The Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility, expected towards the end of the year, will be the overarching strategy for the delivery of the twin transitions in this area. Stakeholders can contribute to the public consultation until 23 September.

Expectedly, the strategy will include the integration of alternative fuels, in line with the recently published hydrogen strategy that already outlines a pathway for the deployment until 2050 in all modes. The strategy is also complemented by the upcoming FuelEU initiatives for the maritime and aviation sector. The FuelEU Maritime initiative, aimed at boosing alternative fuels in shipping specifically, is open for feedback until 10 September. The public consultation on ReFuelEU Aviation, initially planned for the first quarter of 2020, is still to be expected ahead of the Commission proposal this year.

Sustainability: a bigger role for tax

Taxation will become a more important instrument for the Commission to align consumer choices and business investments with its climate targets. On 23 July, public consultations on both the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive and the creation of a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism were launched. Having been unchanged since its adoption in 2003, the Energy Taxation Directive will be subject to a thorough review. The exact changes are yet to be determined based on the consultation outcome, however, what is clear is that it will include a correction of the minimum taxation rates for electricity, gas, and coal, as well as a tax exemption reduction for fossil fuels. The proposal, which is part of the European Green Deal, is scheduled for June 2021. The consultation is open for feedback until 14 October.

In addition, the Commission proposes a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism to prevent ‘carbon leakage’. This ‘CO2-tax’ internalizes emissions in the price of a product, so production does not shift to countries with lower climate ambitions. The exact instrument is still to be determined, and could take the form of an EU-wide import tax or an extension of the Emmission Trading System (ETS). The latter has already seen critical responses, as this may not be in line with WTO rules. The Commission plans to scrutinize the issue and present a proposal later this year. The revenues would directly contribute to the ‘own resources’ of the EU budget for the next seven years that would help finance the new €750 billion recovery plan. Stakeholders can deliver their contribution to the plan until 28 October.

Digital: fit for the COVID-19 reality

Following its pledge to make Europe ‘fit for the digital age’, the Digital Education Action Plan and the Digital Services Act are also high on the Commission’s agenda. The Digital Education Action Plan, due to be published in September this year, will be part of the Next Generation EU program. The COVID-19 crisis has seen schools and universities close their doors and increasingly turn to remote, digital teaching. The Action Plan aims to promote high-quality and inclusive education and training in the post-COVID digital reality. Feedback on the proposal can be delivered until 4 September.

Part of the Next Generation EU financing is the digital tax element of the Digital Services Act, to be presented by the end of 2020. The Digital Services Act is an attempt to regulate online platforms when it comes to illegal goods, product safety, political advertising and offensive content. The initiative may face intense debates before its approval, as previous attempts to implement an EU-wide Digital Taxation mechanism have so far been unsuccessful. The consultation remains open until 8 September.

Next steps

The Commission’s proposals on the above initiatives are expected before the end of 2020, except for the Energy Taxation Directive which is due in June next year. From the above-mentioned public consultations, it is evident that the European Commission is gearing up for a busy end-of-year period. Early (proactive) action is desirable for stakeholders that aim to represent their interests on these files, which will also be closely examined by the European Parliament and Council of the EU in 2021 (and later).

Want to know more about the upcoming initiatives, COVID-19, or other files that might affect your business? Please contact Dr2 Consultants to see what we can do for you.

Climate ambitions of Flanders and the European Green Deal

On 21 June, in an interview on Flemish news television VRT, First Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, called on Flanders to be more ambitious in the fight against climate neutrality. However, he also said, he was optimistic that Flanders would do its part being a wealthy region, which already has industrial pioneers on board for the European objectives. But what exactly are the Flemish climate objectives, and how are they aligned with the EU plans?

Greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 35%

The Flemish climate policy plan sets out the guidelines for the climate policy for the period 2021-2030. In line with the objective imposed by the EU for Belgium, the plan puts forward the objective to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Flanders by 35% by 2030 compared to 2005. However, the EU is setting this goal at a reduction level of 50-55% by 2030. The required effort is identified per sector and, where necessary, the greenhouse gas reduction target is converted into sub-targets. In addition, the plan also contains the main measures required to achieve this objective and puts Flanders on the path towards a low-carbon future.

Energy efficiency

Another priority for Flanders is to increase energy efficiency for all sectors. The three largest energy consumption sectors in Flanders are industry, residential and transport sectors. In addition to improving energy efficiency, simultaneous efforts must be made to achieve the strong development of renewable energy. Energy services and technologies will be digitally controlled and intelligently linked. However, this is a huge challenge for Flanders. In the period 2005-2018, emissions decreased by only 5%. The Flemish Government, therefore, intends to focus more on increasing innovation, the persistence of circular economy, parallel federal policies and additional EU instruments (legislative and financial).

Transforming buildings will also play an important role in increasing the energy efficiency in densely populated Flanders. The climate policy plan encourages the renovation of residential buildings, rebuilding after demolition and making the heating installation more sustainable. This is in line with the EU’s ‘Renovation Wave’ initiative, part of the European Green Deal, with the goal to double the annual renovation rate of the existing building stock. The European Commission will publish communication on this in September 2020.

How can Dr2 Consultants advise you

The EU’s ambition is to lead the way towards a more sustainable future. Contrary to the fear that the COVID-19 pandemic would jeopardize the green agenda for the coming years, the Commission has shown its commitment to accelerate the green transition during the recovery phase. This green transition will pose challenges but will also provide opportunities to businesses, like front runners who can introduce their new and innovative approaches in Flanders. With the Dr2 Consultants’ European Green Deal Impact Scan, we will provide you with a comprehensive analysis of how the European Green Deal will affect your business, identifying the opportunities and challenges and highlighting moments to positively influence the policies and legislation. In addition, we are able to provide you with high-end intelligence on the developments in Flanders that allows for a comprehensive overview of relevant files for your business.

From Green Deal to Green Recovery

While the COVID-19 crisis has seen unprecedented challenges for the European transport sector, it also demonstrated the crucial role transport plays to ensure an uninterrupted supply of goods and services across Europe. Although the recovery of the sector is of vital importance of Europe’s economy, the recovery from the crisis also provides a momentum for the industry to act on the ambition of decarbonization and reaching climate neutrality by 2050. As put forward in the Commission’s EU Recovery Plan, the COVID-19 recovery phase should be used to pave the way towards not only a resilient and reliable transport sector, but also a sustainable one that is at the heart of the European Green Deal.

Following the publication of the Commission’s plan for recovery – dubbed as ‘Next Generation EU’ – as well as its updated Work Program for 2020, we have a clearer picture how the greening of the sector will unfold in the coming years. Dr2 Consultants’ transport team presents four take-aways for sustainable transport that will dominate the EU’s policy agenda in the years to come.

1. Alternative fuels, sustainable vehicles

Alternative fuels are a key priority for the Commission to cut emissions and create jobs. The EU’s executive arm aims to accelerate the production of low-emission fuels and the deployment of sustainable vehicles and vessels. In order to finance this, public investment should come with a commitment from the industry to invest in cleaner and more sustainable mobility.

The roadmaps for the further deployment of different fuel types are expected to be part of the highly-anticipated FuelEU proposals – to be published later this year – that will aim at increasing the use of alternative fuels in the maritime and aviation sector. Furthermore, in early 2021, the Commission will put forward the revision of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, which will ensure the development of the necessary infrastructure across Member States to stimulate the uptake of sustainable fuels for all transport modes. 

2. The convergence of the energy and mobility systems

In order to decarbonize the transport sector, no stone is currently left unturned. Although electrification seems to be the most viable option on the short term, hydrogen is dubbed as the energy source for the future. The Commission’s flagship instrument for research and innovation, Horizon Europe, will be instrumental to kick-start the clean hydrogen revolution. The Commission has increased its budget in the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) with €13.5 billion, bringing Horizon Europe’s new budget to a total of €94.4 billion.

Later this month, the Commission will launch the Clean Hydrogen Alliance to stimulate the upscaling of clean hydrogen production in Europe. Also, the work of the European Battery Alliance will be accelerated. On 24 June, the Hydrogen Strategy is expected to be published.

3. Cities at the heart of sustainable mobility

With over 70% of EU citizens currently living in urban areas, achieving sustainability in cities across Europe is one of the main challenges of the recovery period. As a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis, noise pollution and air quality figures have dropped to an unprecedented level. Moreover, cities reinvented the way citizens move around, e.g. by giving priorities to pedestrians, introducing speed limits for vehicles and implementing new cycling lanes. The shift towards smart and more livable cities, therefore, places a big responsibility on the transport sector.

The Commission aims to increase the support for zero and low-emission mobility in cities by investing significantly in clean urban mobility. Funding calls in the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and InvestEU programs will focus on clean fleet renewals by cities, the deployment of charging points and mobility-as-a-service solutions.

4. Taxation, anyone?

In the Next Generation EU, the Commission proposes to generate additional own resources by new taxes. Although the Commission still must draw up the specifics, it floated the option of extending the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to the maritime sector, thereby raising up to €10 billion annually that will feed into the EU’s budget. In addition, the so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism is likely to be introduced, putting a carbon levy on non-EU imports.

Raising these kinds of ‘European’ taxes is unprecedented. As Member States have diverging views on this matter, it remains to be seen whether we can expect a breakthrough on these new own resources any time soon.

Next steps

The Commission aims to have the new MFF and recovery fund operational by 1 January 2021. EU leaders are expected to start the negotiations on the budget proposal during the European Council Summit on 19 June and will have multiple rounds of very difficult talks until a compromise is made. This ultimately means that the budget as proposed now for transport-related funding instruments can still change. The budget negotiations are expected to accelerate when Germany takes over the rotating six-months Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July 2020.

Europe’s green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

On 27 May, the European Commission’s published its historic proposal for the ‘Next Generation EU’ recovery fund worth €750 billion, topping the renewed proposal for a €1.1 trillion Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027. This proposal for unprecedented investment in the European economy is set to dominate the political agenda of the European institutions for the upcoming months. However, as the European Green Deal was put on the top of the agenda only recently, the current situation begs the question how Green Deal initiatives are incorporated into the Commission’s recovery plans.

Main takeaways                

  •  The European Green Deal will be central in Next Generation EU, public recovery investments should follow EU energy and climate priorities;
  • Additional funding of €30 billion for the Just Transition Fund, bringing the total up to €40 billion;
  • The CAP budget will fall by around €34 billion, but farmers will receive funds for the green transition;
  • The Commission will increase its own resources via an extension of the Emission Trading System (ETS) to the maritime and aviation sectors and a carbon border adjustment mechanism.

Accelerated investments in the green transition

Within the recovery fund, the Commission proposes to set up a Solvency Support Instrument to mobilize private investment and thereby kick-start the economy. The Solvency Support Instrument will have a budget of €31 billion and will unlock up to €300 billion in support that will be linked to the green and digital ambitions of the EU. Apart from that, a new Strategic Investment Facility will be built into InvestEU, generating investment up to €150 billion in boosting the resilience of strategic sectors, notably linked to the green and digital transition.

To kick-start the green transition in times of crisis, the European Commission will come up with a Communication to start a European ‘renovation wave’ in the third quarter of 2020. This massive renovation wave of buildings will improve energy efficiency and promote the circular economy, whilst creating local jobs in the coming years.

On top of the renovation wave, the Commission will focus on rolling out renewable energy projects, especially wind and solar. To this end, the Commission will publish an offshore renewable energy strategy later this year. Moreover, the EU will reinforce its efforts to develop a clean hydrogen economy in Europe, something that is currently mainly promoted by Germany and the Netherlands.

When it comes to clean transport and logistics, the Commission aims to accelerate the production and deployment of sustainable vehicles and vessels as well as alternative fuels. This ambition includes the installation of one million charging points for electric vehicles and a boost for rail travel and clean mobility in European cities and regions.

The Next Generation EU recovery fund also adds €30 billion to the Just Transition Mechanism, bringing its allocated budget 2021-2027 up to €40 billion. As part of the Just Transition Mechanism, the Just Transition Fund will be reinforced to support re-skilling and to help businesses create new economic opportunities in the regions of the EU that are most affected by the green transition.

EU ‘green’ levies to finance recovery

How will this sustainable recovery be financed? The Next Generation EU will raise money by temporarily lifting the own resources ceiling to 2.00% of EU Gross National Income, allowing the Commission to use its strong credit rating to borrow €750 billion on the financial markets. To repay these loans in a fair and shared way, the Commission proposes a number of new own resources. The Commission will for example increase its own resources via an extension of the Emission Trading System (ETS) to the maritime and aviation sectors and a carbon border adjustment mechanism.

Next steps

German chancellor Angela Merkel, shortly before the start of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU, expressed the ambition to reach a compromise on the future EU budget and recovery fund by fall 2020. The proposal of the Commission, as well as the plans put forward by the Franco-German axis and the Frugal Four (Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden), have kept the green transition high on the agenda and one can therefore reasonably expect the EU’s great leap forward in green technologies to materialize in the upcoming years.

The EU Budget proposal and its impact on the digital sector

On 27 May, the European Commission put forward its proposal for a major recovery plan. The plan includes not only a proposal for the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 – The EU budget powering the recovery plan for Europe, but the European Commission also proposes to create a new recovery instrument, Next Generation EU.

Next Generation EU, with a budget of €750 billion, together with targeted reinforcements to the 2021-2027 EU budget with a proposed budget of €1.1 trillion, will bring the total financial firepower of the EU budget to €1.85 trillion. Including other schemes such as Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (Commission’s safety net for workers), the European Stability Mechanism Pandemic Crisis Support (Eurozone’s enhanced credit line) and the European Investment Bank Guarantee Fund for Workers and Businesses (focused primarily on small and medium-sized companies), with a combined budget of €540 billion, significant funds will be available for European recovery.

Next Generation EU will raise money by temporarily lifting the European Commission’s own resources ceiling to 2.00% of EU Gross National Income, allowing the Commission to use its strong credit rating to borrow €750 billion on the financial markets. To help do this in a fair and shared way, the Commission proposes a number of new own resources among which extension of the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) to include maritime and aviation sectors, a carbon border adjustment mechanism, a digital tax and a tax on large enterprises.

Finally, the Commission has published an update of its 2020 Work Program, which will prioritize the actions needed to propel Europe’s recovery and resilience.

The future is digital

The outbreak of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digitization across all areas of the economy and society. New technologies have helped businesses and public services to keep functioning and have made sure that international trade could continue. It is expected that, in the long run, the pandemic will have triggered permanent social and economic changes: more remote working, e-learning, e-commerce, e-government. It has, therefore, become imperative for businesses and governments to invest in digitalization.

The twin transitions to a green and digital Europe remain the defining challenges of this generation. This is reflected throughout the Commission’s proposals, which stress that investing in digital infrastructure and skills will help boost competitiveness and technological sovereignty.

Implications for the digital sector

A new instrument, the Solvency Support instrument would be primarily aimed at countries hit hardest by the crisis and unable to provide state aid to their most vulnerable sectors. The distribution of this ‘immediate and temporary’[1] tool will also aim to prioritize green investment according to the Commission. While welcomed by poorer countries the instrument might not have the desired effect unless agreed upon and deployed quickly by the Member States.

The Strategic Investment Facility will be used to promote the green and digital transitions by investing in 5G, artificial intelligence, the industrial internet of things, low CO2 emission industry and cybersecurity. Since such investments might become significantly riskier in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Commission stands behind a common European approach to provide the crucial long-term investments for companies implementing projects of strategic importance. The Strategic Investment Facility will take a more forward-looking approach by focusing on ‘projects relevant for achieving strategic autonomy in key value chains in the single market.

The Digital Europe Programme will be used for the development of EU-wide electronic identities and for the building of strategic data capabilities, such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, secured communication, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, supercomputers, quantum and blockchain. The Commission has managed to withstand the significant pressure from Member States to reduce the funding of the Programme and the digital transition remains one of its key priorities.

In terms of financial inputs, the digital sector would be affected by two of the newly proposed taxes, aimed at funding the Commission’s so called ‘own resources’ used to repay the recovery package. The new digital tax would come into play at EU level if no global solution could be reached at OECD level. If the tax is applied to companies with an annual turnover higher than €750 million, it could generate up to €1.3 billion per year for the EU budget. The other relevant provision is the new corporate revenue tax, which if applied according to the same principle as the digital tax at a rate of 0.1 percent could generate up to €10 billion annually.

The Commission tried to introduce a European digital tax last year but its proposal was blocked by several Member States. The chance of such a proposal being accepted at this date appear slim as unanimity is required and Ireland, amongst others, has been adamantly against it. However, with the departure of the UK who had previously provided strong backing for Ireland’s opposition, some form of digital taxation being accepted remains a possibility. The new corporate tax was also previously unsuccessfully introduced by the Commission in 2016 and would be aimed at ‘companies that draw huge benefits from the EU single market and will survive the crisis.’[2] The chances of the proposal being accepted are also relatively low with countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands strongly opposing it. The proposal might also provoke a ‘race to the bottom’ phenomenon where companies relocate to countries willing to provide them with the most favorable business conditions. While both taxes are facing strong opposition from some Member States, the alternative of increased national contributions might convince leaders that accepting a form of these levies would be the more politically savvy option.

In conclusion, the new EU budget proposal creates new opportunities and challenges for the digital sector with the potential application of new pan-European taxes but also with additional funding devoted to digitalization, increased connectivity and sustainable value chains. The Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the increasing importance of digitalisation for the daily functioning of the economy and the Commission’s proposal reflects that through a series of digital political priorities. Increased connectivity, investment in strategic digital capacities (artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data and cloud infrastructure, 5G and 6G networks, blockchain and more) building a real data economy and legislative efforts on data sharing (a EU-wide Data Act), as well as a thorough reform of the single market for digital services (Digital Services Act expected in late 2020). The combination of budgetary provisions and policy priorities makes the moment beneficial for a transition to online business models, a trend which has appeared during the pandemic but is expected to remain for the next few years.

[1] Annex to the Commission Budget Communication, p 6.

[2] Commission Budget Communication, p 15.

Why now is the time to embed European affairs in your organization?

Author:

Margreet Lommerts

Managing Partner at Dr2 Consultants

More than ever, it is important to have a focused and effective European Affairs Strategy and structure in place to effectively contribute to the (re)shaping of the European economy for the next decades. Now is the time for organizations to see EU affairs no longer in isolation but as an integral part of their Corporate Affairs Strategy.

Soon after the start of the new European Commission at the end of 2019, we could already see the outline of the agenda of Commissioner President von der Leyen. The Commission’s Green Deal – published on 13 December – presents an overarching growth strategy to achieve a green transformation and climate neutrality of the economy.

Before the realization of tangible proposals for the green and digital transformations of the EU economy, COVID-19 turned the Commission into full crisis mode. Priorities shifted and the Commission and Council of the EU dedicated their work on drafting a comprehensive recovery plan from the health and economic crisis. It will not come as a surprise that a green recovery and the digital transformation will continue to be prioritized and play a central role in relaunching and modernizing the EU economy. According to the Commission, the trillions of euros for the recovery should be spent in a clean, competitive, resilient, and inclusive economy for the 21st century, into a new economy.

As the Commission is formulating its economic and green recovery plan, there is an enormous momentum for organizations to engage with EU institutions in Brussels and to play a role in the shaping of the new economy which will have a huge impact on all businesses.

Looking at the transport sector, it is clear that the demand for mobility and individual transport is changing due to the COVID-19 crisis. The European transport sector faces the great challenge of regaining consumer confidence while stimulating economic growth. According to the Commission, green and digital transitions are at the center of the recovery to create new jobs, remain internationally competitive and bring the sector in line with European climate goals. The Commission aims to better coordinate modes of transport and to encourage the use of sustainable fuels.

In addition, the European energy market will be heavily impacted by the EU’s climate ambitions. The European solar and wind energy market is expected to shrink by about 30% because of disruptions in the logistics chain, delays in projects and stricter financing conditions. As a result, the realization of the EU’s climate targets for 2030 are in jeopardy. This means that acceleration must take place to achieve the EU’s green ambition. The Commission is expected to make additional funding available for sustainable industrial projects and technologies (e.g. carbon capture and storage, relaxation of state aid rules, and alignment of energy taxation with climate ambitions with the aim of getting innovative projects off the ground and scaled up.

As an effect of the COVID-19 crisis, the digital transformation of more “traditional” businesses has definitely accelerated, like brick-and-mortar shops, some of which probably had no online presence whatsoever, maybe not even a Facebook or Google page, before the outbreak. In order to continue operating in a full lockdown situation, these businesses have had to quickly “go online”, either individually or in cooperation with other similar businesses or by relying on the services of online platforms such as e-commerce marketplaces.

As the Commission, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and Member States are actively reaching out for industry input, it is important for these businesses to get involved and make their voices heard at EU level, so that they can contribute to the shaping of EU policies that can actually benefit them.

Even though advocacy in these challenging times may not seem top priority and will take more time, the EU institutions are calling for input and involvement from industry which is a prerequisite for future-proof legislation.

Dr2 Consultants has a proven track record in supporting organizations to become more effective in their European Affairs by providing support in:

  • Identifying the role of European Affairs within the current structure and develop the ideal proposition for your organization;
  • Defining a targeted European Affairs strategy with key objectives;
  • Providing tools and know-how on how to execute the strategy successfully;
  • Creating effective internal structures.

For more information or to get in touch click here.

EU consultation on Artificial Intelligence: seizing the business opportunity

With its new ‘Shaping Europe’s Digital Future’ Strategy, the European Data Strategy and a White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, all published on the same day (19 February 2020), the European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen is fully committed to digitalizing our society. Zeroing in on the AI White Paper, it is clear that the Commission tries to find a delicate balance between building both an ecosystem of excellence that supports the development and uptake of AI and an ecosystem of trust where AI is also regulated and safe for everyone. The European Commission has already undertaken quite some work in defining its approach to AI and in consulting stakeholders. It is now proceeding with an official written consultation, seeking feedback on the White paper through a questionnaire.

While the European Commission has the prerogative to initiate the above ideas and strategies, the European Parliament has not stood still in the past couple of months and has proactively, and extensively, positioned itself and defined its priorities. Most notably, the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) is working on multiple AI reports, focused on the technology’s ethical aspect, its civil liability regime and intellectual property rights for the development of AI technologies. Furthermore, also the Parliament’s Culture and Education Committee (CULT) is working on its own report on AI applications in education, culture and the audiovisual sector, and a EP Resolution has been drafted on automated decision-making processes and ensuring consumer protection and free movement of goods and services.

 

While the discussion around AI at EU level seemed to have stemmed exclusively from the new Commission’s strong will to act on this issue, since then feedbacks from civil society, NGOs, companies and others, have been highly requested to shape further the future framework.

The latest opportunity for stakeholders to contribute to the discussion is the Commission’s Consultation on the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence, closing on 14 June.

The questionnaire explores certain aspects of the White Paper, including specific actions to build an ecosystem of excellence, options for a regulatory framework for AI and further consultation on the question of safety and liability aspect of AI.

To zoom in on a specific and rather important aspect of the questionnaire for businesses, the Commission is seeking feedback on whether the introduction of new compulsory requirements should be limited to high-risk applications, and whether the current definition and criteria for this risk-based approach is the right way forward. New requirements and standards would regulate aspects such as training data, human oversight and so on. In addition, the European Commission is seeking feedback voluntary labelling for any other AI-powered services that could be qualified as “low-risk”. The intention and content of such voluntary labelling scheme is still fully open for discussion.

There are two key opportunities for businesses here through this process, that should not be overlooked:

First, this should be seen as the perfect opportunity to question, understand, assess and if necessary, improve companies’ practices when developing or using AI in their daily activities. The Commission and Expert Groups have developed various tools such as the White Paper, but also the  assessment list of the Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI., that can guide this type of exercise. Do we allow for human oversight? Does the data we use could lead to biased decisions? Would we benefit for a voluntary label or other form of self-regulation? Those are some of the questions that companies operating in the EU could ask themselves to stay relevant in the market.

Second, share companies should share their experience with policymakers to ensure that a new EU legal framework does not hinder business activities or innovation beyond what is necessary to protect consumer and fundamental rights, and to ensure that any new legal framework does not create legal uncertainty or unnecessary red tape. Referring once again to the risk-based approached, the possible evolution of the qualification and criteria for “high-risk” use can have a significant impact on companies. Stakeholders have an opportunity to shape rules that could ensure the EU remains an open, competitive, and innovative market.

There have been certain voices calling for a reassessment of the Commission’s plans in relation to AI under the new circumstances created by the COVID19 outbreak, which could shed new light on the costs of not using AI-powered solutions. The Commission has however clearly insisted on the fact the questionnaire would be the perfect opportunity to reflect further on what a future regulation should look like to ensure that AI fulfill its promises for society.

We are looking for a Public Affairs Consultant

Expiration date: 25 May 2020

Country/City: Belgium, Brussels

Experience: 5-7 years (in Brussels)

Contact name: Viktoria Vajnai

Contact e-mail address: V.Vajnai@Dr2consultants.eu

 

Job Description

Operate in the heart of Brussels, contribute to satisfied clients and celebrate successes with colleagues. This is what your job at Dr2 consultants looks like. Our firm grows in a flourishing way and this is why we like to hire talented people.

Do you have a proven track record in the European bubble? Are you able to support our clients in implementing their Public Affairs Strategy? Then we invite you to apply for this Public Affairs Consultant vacancy.

What you will do

  • Develop, manage and deliver creative Public Affairs and lobbying strategies to achieve our clients’ objectives;
  • Advise clients on policy developments across our three focus areas: Digital, Transport and Sustainability;
  • Manage Public Affairs programmes and liaise with relevant stakeholders across the EU institutions;
  • Build and lead clients’ influence in the European Institutions, across governments and other relevant stakeholders;
  • Expand the client portfolio of Dr2 Consultants;
  • Drive business solutions for our clients that will have tangible and quantitative results.

How you can contribute

  • A proven track record of 5-7 years of experience in EU Public Affairs in Brussels;
  • The ability to manage clients independently and cope with multiple priorities;
  • University level education (Master’s degree), preferably in an area related to European studies, economics or law;
  • Previous consultancy experience is an asset;
  • Network in the European sphere;
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills;
  • Excellent analytical skills;
  • Business acumen;
  • Proficiency in English. Knowledge of other European language(s) – particularly Dutch and French – would be a strong asset;
  • Strong computer skills (in particular Microsoft Office, social media).

What we offer

  • A challenging and growing environment where personal development and growth are encouraged;
  • A dynamic and international team of Public Affairs professionals;
  • An attractive and competitive salary

Terms and conditions

To apply for this position, please send your CV and cover letter to Ms. Viktoria Vajnai (v.vajnai@dr2consultants.eu). Applications should be sent not later than 25 May 2020 with ‘Application Public Affairs Consultant’ in the subject line of the email.

Please note that only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

About Dr2 Consultants

Dr2 Consultants is a dynamic Brussels-based consultancy firm. We provide companies, organizations and NGOs with guidance on EU and Belgian affairs in the digital, transport and sustainability policy domains. To discover more about us, please visit our website (www.dr2consultants.eu).