I am Senior Representative for Green Alliance, an independent think-tank focused on ambitious leadership for the environment.
I am also a freelance communications consultant with over fifteen years' experience in sustainability comms, PR, public affairs, and organisational development.
what I like
sustainability- climate, environment, circular economy: supporting efforts to protect the planet
eclecticism - I've worked in academia, in the non-profit sector, and with large and small corporations: and I firmly believe that broad experience and an open mind make for more imaginative solutions
connections - between people, and also between organisations. I've had the opportunity to work with many different and inspiring people: connecting them, and the organisations they create, often delivers interesting results
passion - there's no point in doing something unless you believe in it and love doing it: it's about getting your mojo working
making change happen - having the ideas, and then putting them into practice
having fun - most of this website is about my professional life, but some of my other passions may just slip in here too!
Tag Archives: europe
Another piece on the Green Alliance blog:
Amidst 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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)?