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European cities and regions: three reasons to get active at EU level

Over the past decades, European cities and regions have been an important driver of the European economy. With major societal transformations such as the energy transition and digitalization looming, cities are expected to become even more important enablers, while regions are challenged to keep up. As such, EU policies and funding initiatives become increasingly important for cities and regions. In this blog post, Dr2 Academy, Dr2 Consultant’s educational institute, highlights the three main opportunities for European cities and regions across Europe to act upon.

1. European cities and regions at the heart of the EU budget

On the eve of the new EU’s seven-year budget cycle, and in the political context of a major economic recovery from COVID-19, the EU’s co-legislators have to make important decisions regarding the dispersion of EU funds. With EU initiatives increasingly materializing in cities and regions, more financing instruments come at the disposal of local authorities.

The grants from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility will be linked to national and regional investments in sustainable and smart solutions, such as clean energy technologies, charging stations, building renovations,  scale-up of data cloud capacities, and the rapid roll-out of broadband services. In the execution of the national recovery plans, Member States are required to spend 30% of its investments via the Recovery Fund on climate action, while another 20% will have to be spent on digital projects. This presents opportunities to cities and regions to inform national administrations about the needs at a local level in order to unlock funding.

Moreover, during the next EU budget cycle, the Commission will aim to modernize Regional Development and Cohesion Policy. Sixty-five to eighty-five percent of European Regional Development Fund and Cohesion Fund resources will be allocated to the five different priorities (in the areas of digitization, climate, transport, social policy, and urban development) that the Commission has formulated, depending on Member States’ relative wealth. Developing regions and cities in the EU have the opportunity to obtain financing via the managing authorities in the Member States, especially when the region shows its added value to one of the priority areas.

In addition, in order to ensure that all cities and regions across the EU can overcome the preconditions for the transition towards a climate neutral Europe, the EU has established the Just Transition Fund, earmarking funds for cities and regions to ensure a fair transition. With new project calls coming up early 2021 for various funding programs, it is crucial that European cities and regions are aware of the funding opportunities and subsequent eligibility requirements.

2. The EU ecosystem: fertile environment for coalition-building and partnerships

For European cities and regions, the EU ecosystem provides par excellence opportunities to broaden their networks, exchange best practices and form coalitions to effectively influence EU policy. For example, in the context of the Urban Agenda for the EU, which brings together the Commission, national ministries, city governments and other stakeholders to promote better regulation, easier access to funding and more knowledge sharing on issues relevant for cities, an umbrella project of the EU smart cities policy called the  European innovation partnership on smart cities and communities (EIP-SCC) was set up. It provides a platform that aims at delivering practical knowledge and capacity-building opportunities, facilitating access to financing, and introducing potential partners to each other.

Besides these programs, stakeholder communities such as EUROCITIES and the institutionalized representation in the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) also provide ample opportunities to build a European wide network and share best practices. Moreover, these networks can enable cities to engage with policymakers, receive information, and access EU funding.

3. Cities as frontrunners and active shapers of EU policies

Given that most of the EU citizens live in cities, they play an important role in the implementation of EU policy. While EU’s urban areas are important contributors to the EU’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, they are at the same time considered important drivers of the EU’s climate ambitions. Through the greening and digitalization agendas of the EU there are plenty of opportunities for cities to fulfil a leading role. Initiatives that have been recently published, such as the Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU Strategy for Energy System Integration, the expected Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility (9 December) and the Renovation Wave initiative are expected to have a profound impact on European cities.

Dr2 Academy

To make the most out of these opportunities at EU level in terms of financing, coalition-building and policy influence, Dr2 Academy offers a wide range of tailor-made services targeted to organizations and professionals whose work is impacted by EU policies. To accommodate the needs of European cities and regions, Dr2 Academy has developed a dedicated curriculum combining theory and practice, that teaches civil servants about the working of the EU institutions, the impact of EU policies at regional/local level, coalition-building, and the execution of effective Public Affairs strategies. In case of questions, do not hesitate to get into contact with us.

EU Affairs Training - 28 January 2021

Dr2 Academy also organizes an EU Public Affairs training on Thursday 28 January 2021, more information can be found here.

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US and EU flags

US-EU relationship after Joe Biden’s election – an analysis

On Saturday 7 November, five days after American voters went to the polls, Joseph Biden was finally projected by US media to have won enough Electoral College votes to become the next President of the United States, defeating outgoing President Donald Trump. Waves of congratulations immediately came from all over Europe. Many expressed relief that Trump failed to be reelected, given the tense US-EU relationship under his administration. Given the global reach of Dr2 Consultant’s clients, we’ve assessed the impact of the US Election on the US-EU relationship. We are therefore offering an analysis of the repercussions of Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s election on trade, environmental and digital issues.

Trade: a more stable partner but many disputes still to settle

The US-EU trading relationship under Trump’s leadership was highly confrontational. The US President complained countless times about the US trade deficit with the EU. He also intensified a sixteen-year-long tariffs war with the EU over state subsidies granted to Airbus and Boeing, imposing tariffs on European steel and aluminum, as well as on German cars or French wines and cheese, amongst others.

Despite having just raised tariffs in retaliation on about $4 billion worth of US goods, the EU is hoping that Joe Biden’s election will bring an opportunity to fix ongoing disputes, including the Boeing-Airbus feud, as announced by Trade Commissioner Valdis Drombrovskis. EU Trade Ministers also met virtually on Monday, 9 November, to prepare for the “rebooting” of transatlantic relations.

Dr2 Consultants expects the EU to take Joe Biden’s election as an opportunity to re-start the EU-US Free Trade Agreement negotiations, which had died during Obama’s mandate after strong backlash from both sides’ civil societies. Although under Biden’s leadership, negotiations will remain difficult.

Furthermore, Biden’s election might finally allow the World Trade Organization to fill its Secretary General’s seat. Trump’s administration has been blocking the nomination of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of Nigeria, despite her being backed by the majority of WTO members.   Although the Democratic Party shares some concern with Republicans over the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, Biden’s proclaimed support of multilateralism could help unlock the situation.

Thanks to Joe Biden’s election, cooperation could also increase on how to deal with China. EU officials hope that cooperation can be found on the protection of emerging technologies, especially 5G networks, to alleviate dependency on Chinese telecom companies. Officials from the Biden campaign have communicated that the future president would be open to cooperating on those topics.

Therefore, although trade relations will not change drastically with Biden’s election, and many disputes remain to be settled, the EU will at least benefit from a more stable and open interlocutor. This will at least result in clearer decisions, which European businesses trading with or involved in the US will benefit from, as they need predictable, transparent, and enforceable trading rules.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden – President-elect of the United States of America

Photo license: Gage Skidmore

Environment and climate change: converging goals on emissions

Climate change is one area in which Biden and the EU see eye-to-eye and cooperation will surely increase, benefiting US-EU relationship.

Although the US have left the Paris Agreement on 4 November 2020, as Trump wanted, Joe Biden has vowed to reenter it as soon as he takes office. Biden also made strong commitments during his campaign to reverse the Trump administration’s detrimental environmental actions, including adopting a $2 trillion green stimulus package, with the objective of cutting US emissions to net zero by 2050, similar to the EU’s target. Furthermore, in terms of sustainable finance, Biden has pledged $5 trillion to support the ecological transition, similarly to EU’s $4 trillion commitment to its own transition.

However, to implement his climate agenda domestically, Biden will have to gain approval from Congress, which might prove tricky if the Senate remains controlled by the Republicans.

Still, Biden’s will to implicate the US in climate talks will likely reignite multilateral cooperation on environmental issues. Additionally, aligned EU and US goals in terms of emissions could give European companies an opportunity to export environmental-friendly solutions and expertise.

Digital and Technology: opposition on Digital Taxation will likely remain

The EU has been attempting to adopt a European Digital Tax for several years, and the Commission has expressed determination to present an EU digital tax proposal if global talks fail to reach an agreement by mid-2021.

Currently, there are ongoing negotiations between 137 countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) about an international tax system, which would redefine the way tech companies are taxed. This would notably impact companies providing digital services, allowing countries where they operate and make significant profit to tax them even if they do not have business operations there. The EU Commission supports this approach and will likely not introduce a separate European Digital Tax if a deal is found at the OECD level.

Trump’s administration however has been less than favorable to allowing foreign countries to tax US digital companies. The US policy under Trump was to use trade sanctions to retaliate against countries seeking to tax U.S. tech companies, as it did when France adopted a digital services tax.

During his campaign, Biden has criticized digital tech giants, and proposed a minimum tax on digital companies. This position could raise the hopes that he would support the taxation system negotiated at the OECD level, or that he at least will not threaten countries adopting digital taxes as strongly as Trump did. However, many observers underline that Democrats have always been just as opposed to a global digital services tax as Republicans, and the OECD does not believe that the change of leadership will increase significantly the chances of success of the negotiations. The deadline for an agreement to be found, originally set for the end of 2020, has already been postponed to mid-2021.

If the OECD negotiations do not result in an agreement on a taxation system, Dr2 Consultants expects companies providing digital services to likely face an EU-level tax. Dr2 Consultants helps its client keep track of the different tax initiatives and understand the potential impact of their business.

There will certainly also be a lot of discussions between the EU and the US on other key digital topics, from content regulation to EU-US data flows and the privacy shields talks.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s twitter thread following Biden’s election summarizes well the EU’s general position regarding Biden’s election: “It is time for a new transatlantic agenda fit for today’s world”, mentioning notably the work to be done on “health, climate, digital [and] reform of the multilateral rules-based system”.

Although Trump’s departure from the White House will likely facilitate communication with the US, the relationship will not go back to the pre-Trump status quo overnight.

Dr2 Consultants continuously monitors the evolution of the US-EU relationship. Should you be interested in further information on how Joe Biden’s election and his agenda could impact your business, you can reach out to Dr2 Consultants at info@dr2consultants.eu or find more information on our website.

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Updated EU climate plans: opportunities for businesses at national level

 

Recovery of the EU tourism industry and its way to a smart and sustainable sector

The COVID-19 pandemic has a devastating impact on the tourism sector, directly affecting 22 million jobs and 2.3 million businesses. In Europe, the tourism sector accounts for around 5% of the EU’s total workforce and almost 4% of the EU’s GDP. As we are witnessing a second wave of infections and subsequent travel restrictions in the EU, the outlook for the sector is not promising. What measures have been taken so far, and how will the recovery of the EU tourism industry be ensured?

Support measures at EU and Member States level

As an initial response to support the sector, the European Commission adopted a package of initiatives in May to allow for a coordinated framework to resume transport and tourism, including guidelines on safe and healthy travel, guidance for lifting internal borders and recommendations on vouchers issued by package travel organizations. However, as the EU has limited competence in the field of tourism, its guidelines are non-binding, thereby hampering the effectiveness of its actions.

At a national level, most Member States introduced economic assistance packages that also covers the tourism sector, including extended deadlines for payments of social charges and wage subsidies, loans and guarantees for workers. The EU competition framework was amended to facilitate this kind of direct support that would normally not be in line with the state aid rules.

Additionally, in order to further facilitate coordination of travelling across the EU, Member States recently adopted a recommendation establishing common criteria and a common framework on travel measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, individual Member States remain responsible for implementing the content of the recommendation, leading to a patchwork of measures and consequently insecurity and unclarity about travel.

European Parliament’s push for coordination of the recovery of the EU tourism industry

The European Parliament (EP) has been very vocal in the role it thinks the EU should play in the recovery of the EU tourism industry. On 29 June, the EP adopted a resolution calling for additional measures to save the EU’s tourism and travel sector. Around that time, different political groups (such as Renew Europe, S&D) in the EP published individual position papers on tourism, all advocating for more European coordination.

The European Parliament’s Tourism Task Force (TTF), a dedicated group in the Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) has been a vocal supporter of developing a strategy for sustainable tourism for some years, advocating the EU to take concrete steps towards establishing a broad, EU-wide vision. Currently, the TRAN Committee is in the process of drafting a report on the development of this strategy.

In the short term, before the finalization of such a strategy for the future of the tourism sector, the TFF argues that a separate budget line of €300 million is needed to support the sector and stresses the importance of considering the tourism industry in drawing up national recovery plans. The TRAN Committee also calls on the Member States to financially support the industry and apply common criteria for travel.

Agenda for a sustainable and smart tourism industry

On 12 October, the European Commission organized the European Tourism Convention in order to facilitate discussions among stakeholders on the recovery as well as the future of a sustainable tourism industry. According to Commissioner Thierry Breton, the Convention marks a first step towards a EU policy framework for the tourism sector.

Based on the conclusions of the Tourism Convention and the recent developments in the European Parliament, Dr2 Consultants identifies four important trends that will dominate the agenda for the recovery of the tourism sector.

  • The strategy for the future of the tourism sector should stimulate a dual transition towards a more sustainable and smarter sector, by accelerating investments. This could lead to the development of safe and seamless tourism experiences powered by the digitalization (data sharing, multimodal travel) and greener holidays (eco-tourism);
  • Sufficient investments in the sector are needed to ensure the recovery of the EU tourism industry. The European Parliament’s TTF proposal to create a separate budget line for tourism worth €300 million is not yet taken up within the draft MFF proposal. However, the European Commission has announced that the new Recovery and Resilience Facility, worth €560 billion, could also be used for the recovery of the sector;
  • Liquidity problems in the sector should be addressed, in particular to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs should be empowered and be able to operate more innovatively with digital tools and financial instruments, either through the proposed budget line or state aid;
  • Collaboration is key between the tourism industry, European politicians, and EU Member States. Policymakers on an EU level should cooperate and coordinate measures in the travel industry and engage with stakeholders to understand what is needed to build a new agenda or strategy for tourism of the future.

 Next steps

As travel restrictions and containment measures are still in place within the EU, a coordinated approach among the Member States is a prerequisite for the recovery. The main challenge for the tourism sector and policy-makers in the short to medium term remains to swiftly enhance cooperation to ensure the recovery of the EU tourism industry in the long term, ready for the current and any future crises.

At the same time, it is to be seen what the Commission will do in building an agenda for the future smart and sustainable tourism industry, as its workplan for 2021 does not reflect any concrete actions for the future industry so far. However, by organizing a convention on tourism, it has put the issue more plainly on the agenda and set the table for constructive dialogue between the sector and policymakers. It is expected that the final report of the European Parliament on establishing an EU strategy for sustainable tourism will further shape the debate on the sector’s future, inviting the European Commission to respond by developing a concrete vision for the future.

The anticipated recovery measures for the post-COVID-19 era will have a major impact on the EU budget and the EU policy agenda. In this challenging context, it is crucial to remain up-to-date with the latest developments and to be flexible in order to adjust and act quickly. Dr2 Consultants supports your organization in getting a better grip on the contingency and recovery measures that are announced at EU level. Visit our COVID-19 services webpage to learn more.

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Transparency in the EU: a state of play

With approximately 30,000 lobbyists, Brussels is known as the world’s second lobbying capital, following Washington D.C. Even though the EU’s relatively small civil service is heavily dependent on the input of stakeholders, voices calling for more transparency have become stronger and stronger. Dr2 Academy explains the state of play of transparency in the EU.

Should transparency be an obligation?

Already since the European Commission’s 2016 proposal for an interinstitutional agreement on a mandatory Transparency Register, the different EU institutions have been debating the form of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ Transparency Register (hereafter: “the Register”). The Register, introduced in 2011, is a database that provides insights into all activities carried out by organizations with the intention of directly or indirectly influencing the decision-making processes of the EU and/or shaping the implementation of existing legislation. The Register has been set up to answer core questions such as what interests are being pursued, by whom and with what budget. The system is operated jointly by the European Parliament and the Commission.

In recent years, the European Parliament and Commission have tried to convince the Council of the EU to become more transparent by applying the Register. Currently, meetings with Commissioners, cabinet members or Commission officials at the helm of the Directorate-Generals need to be registered. In the European Parliament, the use of the Register has also become more of a common practice, in an effort by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to increase transparency towards their constituencies. Some MEPs make the presence in the Register a condition to accept meetings. The Council of the EU, however, has been lagging behind: most meetings still take place behind closed doors.

No registration, no meeting?

The most controversial issue in the negotiations is the principle of ‘no registration, no meeting’. This would mean organizations can no longer meet policymakers from the EU institutions if they are not in the Register. Following recent progress in the negotiations (which focused on additional clarity on the future purpose and scope for an enhanced Register), this conditionality will be further discussed in the coming months with all three institutions expressing their intention to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Furthermore, a revised Register is likely to include additional guidelines on virtual communication channels, as the nature of meeting policymakers changed significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent teleworking policies and travel restrictions.

EU Affairs Training - 28 January 2021

In the meantime, the different political groups in the European Parliament are increasing their transparency efforts. In June 2020, transparency watchdog Transparency International launched a new feature on the EU Integrity Watch, in which it tracks lobby meetings with MEPs. This led to a total of 10,000 logged meetings by the end of September 2020, with the percentage of MEPs reporting their meetings increasing from 37% to 44%.  However, there are internal discrepancies in the consistent usage of the Register. Mainly Scandinavian and Western European countries, as well as the liberal and green political groups are most consistent in their logging of meetings. Pressure from civil society, therefore, seems to work, but an obligation would make these efforts redundant.

A mandatory Register and its implications for Public Affairs

A mandatory Register could relieve lobbying in the EU of its somewhat dubious reputation, as well as enhance citizens’ trust in EU decision-making. Even though it is still unclear what the exact scope of the future Register would be, it is apparent that organizations will have to become more transparent about their activities in Brussels – regardless whether this is due to intrinsic motivation, or due to (mandatory) external obligations.

Organizations engaging in EU Public Affairs should, therefore, consider transparency and ethical interactions with policymakers to be an integral part of their daily work.

Dr2 Academy

The Dr2 Academy offers a wide range of tailor-made services targeted to organizations and professionals active in public or private sectors and whose work is impacted by EU policies. To learn more about EU Public Affairs and on how to engage in transparent Public Affairs, make sure to register for the Dr2 Academy EU Affairs Training on Thursday, 28 January 2020.

Dr2 Academy Register


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The future of the EU transport sector (2021-2024) – four trends

For the EU’s transport sector, the last several months were exceptionally challenging with passenger and freight transport being severely disrupted. Although the recovery of the sector is of vital importance for Europe’s economy, it also provides a momentum for the industry to act on the ambition of decarbonization and reaching climate neutrality by 2050. The upcoming EU Strategy for Sustainable and Smart Mobility (“EUSSSM”), scheduled to be published by the European Commission on 9 December, should pave the way towards sustainable recovery and provide clarity on the instruments to get there. The EUSSSM is the sequel to the 2011 White Paper on transport and will set out the broader policy priorities for the transport sector for the period of 2021-2024, including timelines for legislative and non-legislative proposals. A stakeholder consultation was closed on 23 September, attracting more than 600 stakeholder contributions. Based on our latest intelligence and the contributions of our clients to the consultation, Dr2 Consultants presents four emerging trends that will shape the future of the EU transport sector.

1. Prioritizing alternative fuels across all modes of transport

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. Following the publication of the Hydrogen Strategy this summer, the EUSSSM is expected to outline the broader uptake of green hydrogen in the transport sector. Although electrification seems to be the most viable option on the short term, hydrogen is dubbed as the energy source for the future of the EU transport sector.

In addition, the EUSSSM is expected to propose a range of policy instruments to decarbonize the EU transport sector and cut back CO2 emissions. A silver bullet to decarbonizing the transport sector is lacking, hence a mix of alternative fuels is required. The details of the fuel mix for the future will be worked out in both FuelEU proposals (FuelEU Maritime and ReFuelEU Aviation), that will aim to set out a pathway for low-emission fuels to be used in the maritime and aviation sectors. In parallel, the Commission is working on the revision of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive (AFID), which will accelerate the development of the necessary infrastructure across Member States to stimulate the uptake of low emission fuels for all transport modes. The AFID is expected to be upgraded to a Regulation to ensure that Member States act upon the ambitions.

How can the EUSSSM and related initiatives stimulate the uptake of alternative fuels in the maritime sector? According to the Port of Rotterdam, the FuelEU initiative and the AFID revision should be handled in an integrated manner to ensure that demand and supply requirements remain aligned. At the same time, a goal-based approach is a prerequisite for success. According to the Port, there is no one-size-fits all approach: the legislative framework should be accompanied by a clear roadmap (to be developed by the Member States together with all stakeholders in the value chain) encompassing the range of fuels available for each segment, while meeting general criteria of sustainability, carbon intensity and affordability.

2. Safeguarding competition in the aviation sector

European airlines have been intensively exploring potential pathways towards reducing their carbon footprints (offsets or market-based measures). To limit the climate impact of air travel, it is essential that a basket of measures is applied simultaneously to allow European aviation to fully contribute to the climate effort while long-term solutions are implemented to reduce emissions. These measures include, i.e. greener aircraft technologies, more efficient operations and infrastructure, the development of and appropriate support for sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) and smart economic instruments.

The sustainable growth of aviation, which produces socio-economic benefits and contributes to achieving European environmental targets, remains one of the industry’s most important objectives. There is an urgency to make bold political decisions that will help European aviation meet these objectives for the benefit of passengers and businesses that rely on sustainable air connectivity. The EU should however refrain from imposing unilateral measures at EU level that would hamper European airlines’ ability to compete at global level.

3. A modal-neutral approach, facilitating sustainable transport

In recent months, Member States such as Austria and France have both announced that they would significantly cut short-haul flights if an alternative transport mode is available. Simultaneously, railway undertakings experience an increasing market demand for international rail passenger transport. According to the Dutch Railways (Nederlandse Spoorwegen – NS), the principal Dutch rail passenger operator, the EUSSSM should embrace the modal shift and stimulate the uptake of climate-friendly alternatives such as rail. In order to promote the development of an international passenger service market, the NS is of the view that the EU should strive towards the creation of a European high-speed network that is interoperable, linking European capitals and major cities and connecting urban nodes and airports.

The EUSSSM is expected to have a modal-neutral approach, but it will focus on facilitating the market demands and stimulating sustainable modes of transport. The Commission is expected to address issues related to establishing a level playing field between the modes of transport (i.e. fuel taxation, infrastructure charges), improving intermodal ticketing services and increasing the customer experience through digital solutions such as the Mobility as a Service (MaaS) concept.

4. Green funding to enhance the resilience of the EU transport industry

In order to stimulate the resilience of the European transport industry and to realize the ambitions that will be set out in the EUSSSM, investments are necessary. Following the landmark approval of the new EU budget and the Next Generation Recovery Fund by the European Council in July, the co-legislators are expected to conclude the budget negotiations by the end of this year. With a combined firepower of more than €1,800 trillion, EU Member States will have various funding instruments at their disposal to finance the recovery of the transport sector.

Member States are currently drawing up the national recovery plans in order to receive funds from the Recovery Fund. The draft plans should be shared with the Commission by late October. Project that have a cross-border impact, clear link to sustainability objectives and which can be executed in the next five years will get priority. According to the Commission, 30% of all funding through the Recovery Fund and in the new EU budget will be spent on sustainable projects.

Next steps

The EUSSSM is expected to be published on 9 December. In case you would like more information on the anticipated impact of the strategy on your organization or would like to know more about the future of the EU transport sector, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Visit our Transport Sector webpage.

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.

All eyes on Berlin as Germany starts the Council Presidency

On 1 July, Germany took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU from Croatia, for the second half of 2020, which is already dubbed the ‘Corona-Presidency’. The upcoming six months will bring historic challenges as the management of the recovery from the current health crisis will coincide with some fundamental political choices in the EU, and the outcome will determine the future direction of European integration.

As one of the most powerful Member States of the EU takes over at this crucial moment in time, it will have to play multiple roles at the same time.

Crisis management

First and foremost, the German Presidency will have to play its role as ‘crisis manager’ in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on epidemiological developments and assessments, the German Presidency will seek to increase coordination in Europe to gradually return to a fully functioning Schengen Area. Furthermore, Germany is expected to lead the politically complicated negotiations on potentially expanding the list of third countries from which travel to the EU is allowed. These priorities will be central during the whole German Presidency mandate.

EU budget negotiations

Germany will also take an active part in managing the negotiations on the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 and the Next Generation EU Recovery Fund during the summer months. The main challenge will be to find common ground between the hard-hit Member States, such as Italy, Spain and France on the one hand, and the ‘frugal four’ – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden – on the other hand, with the latter group being against grants as part of the Recovery Fund. Germany will be directly responsible for the legislative work on the different sector programs within the MFF (e.g. Horizon Europe, Just Transition Fund and InvestEU) and the Recovery Fund, and will lead the trilogue negotiations with the European Parliament on the financial framework, once there is political agreement on the general features of the future budget. France and Germany expressed their ambition for a quick agreement by end of July, as European leaders are set to meet face-to-face on 17 and 18 July.

Brexit negotiations

With the Brexit transition period ending on the 31 December 2020 and the United Kingdom declining the opportunity to extend this deadline, the German Presidency will have yet another prospective challenge. Once an agreement has been reached at European Commission level, the Member States will have to give their consent. German EU ambassador Michael Clauss stressed that Germany will be exclusively focusing on “brokering agreements between the 27”.

The German Presidency program expresses the Presidency’s ambition for a comprehensive partnership between the EU and the UK. However, it also reads that the Member States will not accept an agreement that would distort fair competition within the Single Market. If there is an acceptable agreement before the end of the year, the German Presidency is expected to align Member States in its role as ‘Brexit-Broker’.

Work program

The work program sets out, in broad terms, the policy priorities for the second half of 2020. In general, Germany will prioritize the digital and green transitions throughout all of its activities. The German Presidency is committed to an innovative Europe based on three pillars: expanding the EU’s digital sovereignty, enhancing competitiveness and a sustainable and stable financial architecture. It will also ensure that the Green Deal’s implementation will contribute to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe.

The German Presidency will have an extremely challenging task of fostering European unity in the budget negotiations in the face of existing difficulties such as the COVID-19 crisis and Brexit. For more information on the German Presidency’s sector-specific priorities, please read our analyses of the German priorities in the fields of digital & tech, sustainability and transport:

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.