Why Brexit Britain should still be interested in the circular economy action plan

Another piece on the Green Alliance blog:

Why Brexit Britain should still be interested in the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan



Brexit and the Brussels Brits


euukAmidst the shock and carnage of Brexit, Brits living in Brussels will be particularly shocked, and indeed horrified. An expat community is witnessing its own country tearing itself apart, lashing out in anger, inflicting pain and unleashing chaos on itself, but also on the rest of Europe. Adding to the shock for many is the questioning of our own identities: is this still the Britain that we left?

Beyond the political, economic, social and environmental questions, Brits in Brussels will eventually have their own concerns: what will become of them? Jobs, lives, families in Belgium have all been built by UK citizens taking advantage of the UK’s membership of the EU, so what will happen to them now? The statement of the (outgoing) UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, to Brits living abroad that, ‘there will be no immediate changes in your circumstances’ is hardly reassuring.

So what will the impact of Brexit be for those of us in the ‘Brussels bubble’?

The first harsh truth is that today, this is a very minor issue. The seismic shock of Brexit is so big that the minor rumblings of a few expats will have little impact on UK politics. Even when the question of UK citizens abroad rises up the agenda, the biggest issue will be the future of retirees in Spain, not working age expats in Brussels. This will be a long way down the list of priorities of the next British Prime Minister. And to be fair, for many British citizens working on EU issues in Brussels their own situation may be at the back of their minds today as they think of the impact on the UK, Europe, and the world.

 The legal uncertainty is perhaps the biggest issue: will expat Brits still have the right to live and work in Belgium once the UK has left the EU? Of course, this depends upon the nature of the new UK/EU agreement. EEA membership would safeguard the right to work in Belgium. But it’s extremely difficult to see how the UK could keep out EU migrants from Britain, whilst retaining the right for UK citizens to work abroad. Brits have the right to Belgian citizenship after living in the country for more than five years, so that will be a solution of sorts for some. Many Brits, of course, already live in mixed nationality families, with intertwined lives that make a Brexit even more complex and threatening.

So what future for the diverse range of Brits in Brussels?

  1. The ‘Eurocrat’

Brits working within the EU Institutions are in a state of shock. There are implications for their lives and careers, but these are also people who are committed to an idea of Europe, and an idea of Britain’s relationship with the EU, which has just been put in question.

When the UK leaves, will they lose their jobs? Jean-Claude Juncker has already written to them to promise that he will fight for their jobs. But whilst their contracts may continue, they risk marginalization within the Institutions, with no senior roles allocated for Brits. Those on fixed-term contracts are most under threat. And those working for UK MEPs will clearly be looking for new careers after the next Parliament elections in 2019.

  1. The Lobbyist

 Brits in Brussels have traditionally traded off two things: access and communication. For lobbyists within the public affairs agencies, uncertainty creates business. Expect a boom in the next couple of years for political lobbyists in Brussels as the convoluted process of negotiating a new UK / EU relationship begins. British lobbyists will be in demand, both from UK companies seeking to understand the regulatory impact of Brexit, and from EU companies who are concerned about their export markets and adapting to a new way of trading with the UK.

But at the same time, those dealing with the regular EU policy-making will take a hit. Who will employ a British lobbyist to steer a path through a legislative process that will not include the UK? The value of having British contacts in the EU Institutions has just gone through the floor. Understanding the Franco-German political axis will become more important, along with growing powers like Poland. So maybe it will be short-term gain for some, but long-term pain for all?

  1. The Communicator

The second advantage Brits have in Brussels is their ability to communicate in English. Unfair as it may seem, amongst all these polyglot Europeans the mono-lingual Brit is still valued for their ability to write in their mother tongue. English is likely to remain an important language in Brussels – within both political and business circles.

PR professionals, Communications Directors, writers and editors will all hope that their skills will remain bankable in a Brit-free EU. But whether they will have the right to continue to use those skills by working outside the UK is another question.  

  1. The Facilitator

 Brussels is full of trade associations, alliances, and coalitions, and the people who bring these groups together. British staffers in these offices will be feeling nervous: what future for them if they work for an association without any UK members in future? For those involved in the world of EU funding the prospects are even more uncertain. UK participation in EU programmes and funds is not guaranteed. And the role of British regional offices in Brussels, universities, and others who seek to build partnerships around EU funds is clearly under threat.

  1. The Campaigner

There is a large community of Brits working for campaigning NGOs in Brussels, across all sectors. Almost all of them were strongly in favour of Remain, on the basis of preserving social and environmental rights and values. They are now already campaigning to ensure that the issues close to their hearts are not damaged by Brexit, whether in the UK or the rest of Europe. Many will argue that there is more need than ever for progressive British voices in Brussels. But will those voices still be heard? It is clear that the political landscape has changed, perhaps forever. Responding will certainly require new approaches.

  1. The next generation

Beyond the fate of the Brits who currently live and work in Brussels, perhaps it is more important to think of those who are to come. Or rather, those who may not be able to come in future. Brussels is a European city of movement – people arrive, work, live, love, and then often leave. Some of us stay, but many simply take advantage of free movement to experience living in another country for a few months or years. That right is now under threat. The ‘Brussels Brits’ who are already here have their own concerns, but the next generation may not have the right to come and live in this confusing, infuriating, complex, delightful, and wonderful city – or in the rest of the European Union. And that’s the real shame.


Simon Wilson is a long-term Brit in Brussels. This article is written in a personal capacity.


Designing out waste

The Environment Council has just given its views on the circular economy – here’s my take on how to design out waste for a circular economy, published on EurActiv:

Let’s design out waste for a circular economy

The Biggest EU Referendum Myth?

There is a lot of competition for the biggest myth of the UK referendum campaign. Viewed from the outside – by a Brit who has lived in Brussels so long I don’t have a vote – it’s like watching someone shooting themselves in the foot (‘See? That’s showed you!’). A horrified fascination that you just can’t turn your head away from.

But amidst all the lies, myths and misinformation, there is one that jumps out at me (today at least).

It was summed up this morning on the radio by a leave voter interviewed in a pub. ‘Once it’s all done and dusted they’ll find something else to talk about’, he said, with an air of boredom about the whole EU debate.

Yes, I’m sure that people in the UK are going to be thoroughly bored of talking about, reading about, watching stories about the EU by 24 June.

One year ago, only 2% of Brits thought that the UK’s relationship with Europe was the most important issue facing the country (according to this Ipsos MORI survey). But now, the country is on the verge of voting to make it not just the issue of the week, or month, but the defining issue for years to come.

A Leave vote will make the European Union THE story in the UK for years. The economic, political, legal, social consequences will dominate the news, the economy, and the political agenda.

Negotiating a new relationship with the EU will take years. And with every other Member State getting a veto, the negotiations are likely to prove complex and uncertain. The UK’s position will be unclear and incoherent, since Parliament will have vastly different views on how to proceed to the Brexit Tories. (What model to go for: Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Turkey, WTO?) Other Member States have their own issues to worry about, and domestic elections to win – which will hardly make them likely to cave to the UK’s self-hostage situation (‘Give me the money or I’ll shoot…. myself’).

And in the meantime, pretty much everything that happens in the UK will be viewed through the lens of the Brexit. Environment? Social policies? NHS? Unemployment? Infrastructure investment? The danger is that there will be no space to discuss any of these things seriously for years. It will all be on hold as the UK deals with the crisis and uncertainty, tries to rebuild trade relations, and to find the answers to hundreds of questions that have not even been asked yet.

So bad news for those sick of the EU debate. After years of wilfully refusing to discuss Europe, Brexit will put it at the heart of British political discourse for years to come.

5 things you should know about the Circular Economy Action Plan

I’ve recently started working for Green Alliance, the environmental think-tank, as their representative in Brussels. They are a UK think-tank, and it makes sense to have someone in Brussels to promote the great work that they do. At least, that’s the idea!

The main thing I’m focusing on is the circular economy, hence this piece I’ve written over at the Green Alliance blog:

5 things you should know about the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan

I’ll be writing some more blogs over there, and will link to them here.

As part of my work for Green Alliance I am coordinating an alliance of think-tanks and progressive business from the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands, the Alliance for Circular Economy Solutions (ACES).

Contact me by email or Twitter if you’d like to know more about what ACES is doing, or about Green Alliance’s work.

Plan G, the EU, and the Commonwealth: a summer story

The scene: a couple enjoy their summer holidays, on the beach in Brittany. 

J – Mais oui, c’est bien lui, regard – it’s him, I’m sure! Là-bas sur la plage, dans ce petit maillot de bain…mais qu’il est rouge comme une tomate – ou plutôt un rosbif! Just like all the Englishmen on the beach!

F – Ecoute, chérie, j’en ai marre maintenant. First you were seeing Valérie everywhere, then you thought Ségolène was following us… really, just relax and stop imagining things!

J – Coucooouu! Daveed! {Et sa femme, regard} – Samantha! Comment vas-tu Daveed ? Mais, oui, viens dire bonjour !

F – NON, Julie, qu’est-ce que tu fais?!!…  {Oh god it is him, merde!} … Daveed, mon brave!

D – Oh, er …Bongiorno! François – what a shock. I mean surprise. What a pleasant surprise, great to see you. Sam… you know François, and have you met Ség…Val… ermm.. well anyway you are looking well, and wow! I see those stories about the French abandoning topless sunbathing were wide of the mark, eh?!

S – David!! Stop staring, now!! {bloody French actresses, shameless…}

D – Yes, anyway – but I thought you two were… I mean the papers said…

 Ah ben, oui… how you say – ‘it’s a bit complicated’, Daveed. To be honest, it’s been a bit of a difficult time. You know, that feeling of not being loved, being under-appreciated, not getting the respect you deserve…

D – Oh right, so Julie wanted to be ‘official’ then – to move into the Elysée?

F – Quoi? Non, non, non, mon frère ! I was speaking about myself and the French people. I mean have you seen my approval ratings lately? They just seem to have fallen out of love. It’s outrageous really, being cast aside for a younger woman, that Marine just waggled her hips and they were all besotted. Honestly, is there no loyalty any more?

S – Outrageous, I agree – some people have no loyalty do they, I was just saying to so my friend Valérie the other day.

D – SAM! Really! Sorry François, I don’t know what’s got into Samantha… ever since I promoted a few women into the Cabinet she’s been like this. Keeps complaining about being stuck in the kitchen instead of on the Downing Street catwalk or something…

{mind you, François, you’ve fallen on your feet this time, you old dog, she may not have the brains, but wow, not bad!}

F – {Ah, oui, t’as raison Daveed – I’ve had enough of the brainy types!}

Et alors, Julie thought we should come here to Bretagne for a holiday. Something about ‘Nos plus belles vacances’, I think it was from one of those little films she watched, n’est-ce pas ma chérie ?

J – I didn’t watch it, I acted in it! {Imbécile!!} And you should watch it, you might learn something.

F – But what brings you to this pays magnifique de Bretagne Daveed?

D – Oh just a break as well. To tell you the truth I needed to get away, I wasn’t feeling too appreciated back home either. And I wanted some time away to plan my re-election campaign for next year.

F – Ah oui, exactement! I have been doing the same thing, planning my triumphant re-election! Julie, are you ok, you seem to be choking?

J – Ungghhh – cough – heummm, excuse me, must be something stuck in my throat…

F – Well, maybe it won’t be so easy for either of us eh, Daveed? We are both how you say – under a cloud – whilst that woman Merkel just floats above us all – maddening! Have you had any bright ideas then, any brilliant new policies?

D – Gotta say I agree with you about that woman François. I’ve had just about enough to be honest. Lording it over us with her election results, putting her foot down about Juncker, and then to cap it all they won the bloody World Cup again as well! We really need to do something about the Germans. But I can’t think what.

S – Oh Dave babe – but what about that idea you were talking about this morning honey, you know, that Plan G thingy – go on, tell François!

D – Sam! That’s private – you shouldn’t be listening in to my strategy meetings with Lynton. Besides, Plan G was just something I came up with, it’s not really…

F – Daveed, mon frère – we are all friends here, non? Tell me your idea, this Plan G.

D – Well it just came to me the other day. I was watching the Commonwealth Games on the telly – I’d asked Alex for tickets but he told me I’d need a visa to cross the border to Scotland so it seemed easier to watch it at home. Anyway, the great thing was, we were winning all these medals! I mean, hundreds of them! And there were no Germans there to beat us on penalties, no Nico Rosberg to pip us to the chequered flag, and most of all, no Angela Merkel in the grandstand doing that smug thing with her hands while Germany triumphs again!

So I started thinking, you know, well why not invite a few more mates to come and join us, make it a really big party. I know it’s mostly ex Brit colonies, but it’s all a bit of a laugh, none of that boring Brussels bureaucratic stuff. We could invite the Swedes to join, they’re always fun… and I get on pretty well with the Hungarians so they could come too. I mean, the sports are fun, but the best bit is that we get to go these great places for the summits, not like the EU!

F – Ah oui, so you don’t like coming to Brussels for those terrible Summits either eh? Me too – I have to say, if I have to eat any more moules frites while being lectured about fiscal prudence by that woman…

D – Exactly – for Commonwealth summits we get to go to places like Trinidad, Australia, – we’re even off for a jaunt to Vanuatu in a bit, how’d you like to top up your tan on a Pacific island Julie, eh love?

S – DAVID! I won’t tell you again babe, stop drooling!

D – Sorry, where was I…? Oh yes, and the best thing is, we only have to meet every couple of years.

F – Quoi?! But we get summoned to bloody Brussels twice a month at the moment for some crisis meeting or other, ce n’est pas vrai!

D – Yes I know, the Commonwealth is really much more fun than the EU. Her Majesty does rather try to keep everyone in line, but we still manage to sneak out for some fun… and well, you’d know all about sneaking out for some fun, eh François, yeah?!


D – Soz, yeah. So… I was kind of wondering… if you’d like to join us sometime…? I mean, I know we haven’t seen eye-to-eye about things in the past, but, well, better the devil you know and all that. I know France wasn’t a British colony, but there are plenty of other members who weren’t either, like… well… Rwanda, but that’s not the point. And to be honest, the Aussies are a good laugh and everything, but maybe we need a bit of French culture to knock the edges off that Tony Abbott. Of course, the main thing though, is that you could get away from Merkel, and outflank Marine at the same time on Europe – that can’t be bad eh?

F – Waow… quelle idée Daveed! A Commonwealth Union without the Germans! Bye-bye Eurozone, welcome to the party-zone! Magnifique n’est-ce pas, Julie? You really have surpassed yourself with this!

J – Ah oui… what did you call it Daveed, your ‘Plan G’? Wherever did you get that name from?

D – Er, well, I’m not sure really, it just came to me…

J – And your friend Lynton, non? Has he been doing some holiday reading as well?

D – I don’t know what you mean Julie?

J – Well, I know I’m only an actress – not as bright as you brilliant politicians – but I do know some history… Guy Mollet… Anthony Eden…Plan G, the proposal to bring France into an extended Commonwealth to keep them away from the Germans… when was that, 1956? Not exactly a new idea, M. Cameron. Perhaps I’m not the only one here who is a little over-exposed.

Is that more sun-burn, or have you just turned a little red?



Why We Need Bilderberg in Brussels

Reading the reports of the Bilderberg Group meeting last week set me thinking : we need Bilderberg in Brussels.

The Bilderberg Group is the secretive annual conference of world leaders from the domains of business, politics, and finance. It met last week in the UK amidst controversy over exactly what was being decided behind closed doors. Some believe that the Group is a secret cabal which plots world domination. Others that it is just a forum for discussion.

Now, Brussels is in many ways the world capital of meetings. It’s what we do. All kinds of meetings. Working groups, strategy meetings, board meetings, trade association meetings, coalition meetings, Parliamentary meetings, seminars, roundtables, general assemblies… But we still have a lot to learn. I mean, Bilderberg meets once a year, for two days. And they manage world domination in that time. Now I’ve chaired and facilitated a lot of meetings in Brussels in my time. But world domination? In two days? Can you imagine if Bilderberg met in Brussels…


Look we really must get started, it’s twenty minutes past now – no, we had said registration at 0830, meeting starts at 0900 Mr Kissinger, you should know that by now…

Yes Mr Geithner, you can submit travel expenses – I think Mr Papalexopoulos is in charge of the money – yes, under the supervision of Mrs Merkel of course… no, Mr Flint we are not paying expenses in cash this year, nor in the form of off-shore credit derivatives – no, I don’t care if that is normal practice at HSBC…

First item on the agenda is our vision for global hegemony – yes, a point of order?

Well, yes, thank you Mr Davignon, so you would say that global hegemony is our mission, not our vision? Remember we did have our strategic vision working group look at this issue last – yes, sorry Mme Lagarde?

Ok, well I do accept that accurate translation of meeting documents in advance is essential if the meeting is to be a success – sorry, yes I think we had said six weeks in the original language but only three weeks for translations, no? Yes, thank you Mr Schmidt, it’s true that we could use Google Drive to share our meeting documents in advance, but there were some security concerns raised by Mr Ballmer on that one…

No, I have to defer to our governance working group on this one, we do have rules of procedure – EXCUSE ME, through the Chair please General Petraeus, I don’t know how you deal with interuptions in your organisation… oh, I see… well I suppose that is one solution, but we really don’t have the facilities for water-boarding here, so let’s just stick to the agenda shall we?

Look, we’ve been through this whole official languages / working languages debate several times already, I really don’t want to…

Yes, Mme Lagarde we did adopt that resolution about French being the cultural language of global domination, but English being the working language of oppression which helped us move forwards during that unfortunate episode with the monolingual lunch menus last time…

No, M. Trichet I was not minimising that for an instant – of course I appreciate the very delicate work of Carl Bildt in negotiating a compromise on that occasion, I think we did pass a resolution thanking him. Yes Mr Monti I am aware that you abstained on that motion because the pasta was not al dente

If we can just get back to the agenda please? Now, Mr Blair, you had a point about vision and mission I think? Well, absolutely, of course we mustn’t forget about values in this discussion as well – MRS MERKEL!! Please stop sniggering whenever Mr Blair mentions ‘values’…

Yes, thank you President Barroso it’s true that we should define ‘hegemony’ more closely. No. No. No. Look: for the last time ‘hegemony’ does NOT mean ‘jobs and growth’. Hegemony means power. No, I don’t have a Portuguese translation for power Mr Barroso, but I’m pretty sure that Open Method of Coordination is not a synonym, nor is it an appropriate tool for global domination.

Mr Mandelson? Yes, it’s true that the role of soft power is greatly underestimated by some delegates, but I think that Mr Fu Ying has a point when he observed that ‘coordination’ is not the quickest route to ‘domination’…

And if you recall, Mr Barroso we decided not to call our strategy Global 2020 at the last meeting, sorry.

Yes Mr Cameron? You have a problem with the word ‘Global’ …? Look, we already removed all references to ‘European’ from the strategy document in recognition of your difficulties with the word… but if we are not global then what are we?

…well, in the spirit of compromise of course… perhaps we could call it the Bilderberg Vision for Global Hegemonic Coordination Within a Framework of Subsidiarity.

OK, well done everyone, let’s break for lunch shall we?