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?



The EU Guide to Broken Europe

An answer to The EU Guide to Broken Belgium

This article in the Wall Street Journal provoked huge interest in Belgium last week, listing as it does numerous reasons why Belgium is failing economically.

Various parts of the Belgian press accused the WSJ of ‘Belgium bashing’, but the criticisms were actually taken from a European Commission report – the so-called Country Specific Recommendations for Belgium. The article had simply ‘interpreted’ the Eurojargon in the report to shed light on some of the weaknesses inherent in this country – the high taxes, grid-locked roads, stagnated labour market and bloated public sector.

Now, as someone who has lived in Belgium for 15 years, I can’t say that I didn’t recognise these criticisms. But (as a seasoned Euro-watcher) what seemed more interesting was the indirect, indeed obtuse way that the criticisms had been made in the Commission report.

The European Commission makes these ‘Country Specific Recommendations’  (CSR) to all 27 Member States at this time every year. The Commission is trying to give supportive advice, rather than making vicious attacks. Like your best friend tactfully telling you to lose a little weight. Not like Gordon Ramsey screaming that you are a useless ****. But the trouble with European Commission documents of course, is that they are often so indirect as to be… well, almost incomprehensible.

For example, the Belgian CSR states,

‘The coordination issues inherent in a highly regionalised structure put emphasis on an efficient organisation of public governance, as the presence of multiple networks, layers and actors may lead to duplication of structures with weakened governance and higher administrative costs.’

This is very indirect. So indirect as to require a translation: Belgium has an inflated, inefficient, ineffective and expensive public sector.

This set me wondering: If all of their criticisms are as opaque as this, maybe the Commission needs some help? Perhaps someone needs to provide simple translations to the Country Specific Recommendations for other countries as well? And perhaps that might make Belgians feel a little better about being targeted by the Commission and the Wall Street Journal?

With this in mind, I turned to another Country Specific Report. Since they are also experiencing a few problems right now, I thought that I’d start with Greece. So here are a few of the Commission recommendations for Greece, with my translations in italics.

1. The consolidation measures taken so far have not been sufficient in attaining the required fiscal effort to correct the excessive deficit.

You may think that you are hurting already, but you need to make more cuts, and raise more taxes, because you are still running the country at a loss.

2. Net lending to the corporate sector remained negative in 2012.

Your banks won’t lend to your businesses because they have no confidence that they’ll get their money back.

3. The fiscal effort envisaged by the authorities is not compatible with an actual correction of the excessive deficit by 2014. Possible additional consolidation measures specified have been temporarily withdrawn and at any rate would not be sufficient.

Your attempts to balance the budget are a joke! You’ve back-tracked on the measures you promised to take, and in any case they weren’t nearly enough in the first place.

4. The labour market reforms proposed by the government aim to increase labour market participation and mobility. The reform is ambitious and relevant to boost labour market participation. However, the reforms are not yet enshrined in law and the time span for implementation seems rather short.

Your labour reforms sound good in theory, but we fell off our chairs laughing at your implausible timetable: let’s face it, the reforms will never take place!

5. VAT administration [should be] reviewed in an effort to increase efficiency, improve tax collection and fight fraud.

There are huge tax loopholes, massive fraud, and your tax authorities are incompetent.

6. There still appear to be governance obstacles to market-driven consolidation in the banking sector, which affect the overall efficiency of the financial sector.

The market knows that your banks are screwed, but you are blocking the necessary changes and pretending everything is ok.

7. Policy action to reduce the high tax wedge for low-wage earners and improve the integration of the long-term unemployed into the labour market has been limited so far.

The working poor pay ridiculously high taxes, and once you’re unemployed for any time you won’t get another job. And you’re doing nothing to solve this.

8. The credibility of fiscal policy over the medium-term would be reinforced by the composition of government expenditure and revenues better reflecting the growth impact of the different spending items and revenue sources.

Your budget is not credible as you haven’t even thought about what impact it will have on the real economy.

Pretty damning, eh? Still, perhaps that’s not unexpected, after all, we are talking about Greece here.

Except… I lied. Whilst all of the quotes above are genuine Commission recommendations, none of them are from the Greek report. 1-2 are addressed to the UK, 3-4 to the Netherlands, and 5-7 to Germany. Oh, and the last one is addressed to the whole of the Eurozone.

Feel better now, Belgium (and Greece)?


Brussels: a city of VIPs?

I’m not quite sure how I came to be reading the latest annual activity report of the Brussels Ixelles police force (Ixelles is a commune of Brussels, near the centre).

However I did come across some interesting statistics. The report lists the number of hours spent annually in providing police escorts for ‘Presidents, Ministers, and other VIPs’.

Those who live in Brussels will be familiar with the sight – and sound – of VIP convoys heading across town. One or more big black limousines is accompanied by a phalanx of police motorcycle outriders, who alternately zoom ahead or drop behind, blocking traffic at junctions with whistles and flashing lights, in order to let the VIPs pass unhindered through the rush-hour traffic.

They look pretty cool, and usually lend a certain panache and swagger to their maneuvers, aided by the inevitable black sunglasses. The constant convoys can be tiresome for those exposed to this on a daily basis. And it is on a daily basis: Brussels has an awful lot of VIPs.

One reason is the number of levels of government here.

A ‘Minister’ in Brussels can mean a federal (i.e. national) Minister, or a Minister in one of the three regional governments (Brussels-Capital, plus the Walloon Region and Flemish Region, both based in Brussels as well), or the French-speaking Community (the Dutch-speaking Community is merged with the Flemish Region, just to add to the confusion). Then of course there are the EU VIPs as well – national Ministers from all across Europe, here for EU meetings. Then there are the European Parliament VIPs and other dignatories. And of course the European Commission – each of the 26 Commissioners has their own driver and car to allow them to zoom up rue de la Loi (it would be much quicker by bike or metro of course). And not forgetting the diplomatic corps. There are huge embassies all along some of Brussels’ broad, tree-lined avenues, with delegations from around the world occupying huge, art nouveau mansions. There seems to be a rule that the smaller the country, the larger the embassy building, although it may just be that the bigger countries are a bit more discreet as a result of security concerns.

A ‘President’ can mean a Minister-President (regional level) a national President from another country who might be in town, or one of the European Presidents – the Commission, Council and Parliament each have their own President of course. Belgium is a monarchy, so no national President here, but  the royal family need to move around town too – the King’s official palace is an anarchist’s stone’s throw away from where I work in town.

I’m not sure who counts as a ‘VIP’ deserving of an official convoy, but there must be a lot of them too. Because in 2009 the Ixelles police spent no less than 6557 hours in escorting these convoys. Now that’s a lot. But by 2010 the figure had risen to 9499 – an increase of 44% in one year! Now that’s a lot of Ministers, Presidents and VIPs, not least because Belgium didn’t actually have a government in 2010.*

9499 hours per year already means that the Ixelles police are spending 26 hours per day providing VIP escorts, which is an impressive effort.

At the current rate of increase, I estimate that by 2020 the police will be spending nearly 250,000 hours per year on escorting VIPs. We have a lot of Ministers, Presidents and VIPs, but there’s no way they can keep up with the demand, even if they all spent 24 hours per day driving around Brussels. Obviously, this means that we are going to need a lot more VIPs, Ministers and Presidents.  In fact, we will all have to be VIPs, with our own outriders to clear the traffic every time we go out to the shops.

Of course, even the current level of police escorts does seem absurdly huge. And bear in mind, that these 9499 hours are just the figures for one of Brussels’ communes (there are 19 in total!). This is all part of a trend towards greater levels of security for our politicians… as they become more and more unloved.

There are two responses towards the increased security threats which our leaders face. One is to find more and more remote, and secure places to meet. Hence the retreats in difficult to reach, easy to control places like Davos or the UAE. But I think that Brussels’ response is much smarter. Rather than isolating the VIPs, here they are safely hidden in plain view. After all, with so many convoys of political nonentities patrolling the streets of Brussels, another black limousine attracts no attention at all from the casual passer-by. It could be a minor diplomat from a low-ranking country, or a mid-ranking official from one of the regional governments. Or it could be Francois Hollande, sweeping into Brussels to a high-level meeting with Merkel and whomever is Prime Minister of Greece this week. But either way, no one is going to notice.





* ok, not exactly true I know. We did have an acting government it’s just that it took over a year post-election to reach agreement between the parties about forming a new one.



Match the headlines: a European game about press and prejudice for all the family

Six newspapers from across the EU have recently been collaborating on European stories, which are then syndicated within their own titles at national level. The six are The Guardian (UK), Le Monde (France), El Pais (Spain), La Stampa (Italy), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), and Suddeutsche Zeitung (Germany).

I thought it would be interesting to look at one of their joint endeavours – an interview with Angela Merkel – comparing the articles to identify similarities and differences of presentation.

This is a few months old now, but although I emailed it to a few people at the time, I didn’t get around to blogging it until now.

The papers all shared a single interview with Merkel, then wrote separate articles. For amusement at the time I compared the headlines to see the spin they put on the same interview according to their political orientation and national perspective (thanks to Google translate in some cases – the translations are not official!).

See if you can match the headline to the publication / country (UK, DE, FR, ESP, POL, IT)…

Answers in the comments, no cheating!

1)  My vision is for a political union

2) There are no half-measures

3) Merkel erases their red lines

4) The future of Europe is political union

5) Love for Europe is not enough, we must work for it

6)  Merkel casts doubt on saving Greece from financial meltdown


Can the European consumer rescue Europe?

I wrote this article for Edelman’s ConsumerACTIONism blog

In case you couldn’t tell from the made-up-word-with-random-capitals-inserted,  it’s a consumer marketing blog.

Can the European consumer rescue Europe?