Archive for the ‘European politics’ Category

The EU has Reached a Preliminary Agreement on the Defense Budget until 2027

The EU institutions have reached a partial political agreement on the European Defense Fund, which will contribute to the strategic autonomy of the Community, the European Commission said.

The agreement reached affects the possibility for the Fund to provide support for industrial development - from research, prototype development to certification of defense products. The Fund will support collaborative research projects free of charge. Research and design will be able to receive up to 100 percent funding. The EU budget will co-finance the cost of developing prototypes by up to 20 per cent. Testing, grading and certification will have budget support of up to 80 per cent.

The fund will support projects from companies from different EU countries. If eligible, projects will be eligible for additional funding of 10%. Projects will be defined in accordance with defense objectives agreed by EU countries within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Regional and international priorities, for example within NATO, may also be taken into account, the report says.

Only joint projects involving at least three eligible participants from at least three EU or Associated Countries will be able to use these opportunities. At least four and at most eight percent of the budget will be earmarked to strengthen the EU's long-term position in technology in the long term and defense autonomy.

Only actors established in the EU or Associated States which, moreover, do not control foreign countries or legal entities from foreign countries are eligible for funding. Subsidiaries in the EU of companies from foreign countries will, exceptionally, be eligible for funding under certain conditions, so as not to jeopardize the EU's security and defense interests.

Entities established outside the EU will not receive funding but may participate in cooperation projects. In this way, the EU does not exclude anyone from using the resources of the European Defense Fund but sets conditions for receiving funding similar to those with which EU companies face foreign markets.

The agreement reached has yet to be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. The European Defense Fund will complement other EU programs with a budget of € 6.5 billion to improve the strategic transport infrastructure so that it meets NATO requirements as well as the proposed new research agenda.

The UK will remain an integral part of an ever-closer Europe

In five weeks, the UK is set to leave the European Union – but, writes Martin Westlake (LSE), despite Brexit, internal and external forces are driving European states towards ever closer relations. The UK will remain an integral part of an ever-closer Europe, whatever the fine detail of its relations with the EU.

The European continent is covered by a complex web of intricate mechanisms between states and organisations, many with overlapping membership. The continent is covered by a patchwork quilt – a patchwork of considerable variety, but a single quilt. If the UK leaves the EU it will not be leaving Europe. That would not only be a geographical impossibility; the UK will, in particular, remain a founder member of the Council of Europe (whose 1949 Statute declares the need for ‘a closer unity between all like-minded countries of Europe’) and a founder member of NATO.

The UK will remain a part of the quilt. And the UK will certainly not be removing itself entirely from its relationship with the EU. As the detail of the draft withdrawal agreement already illustrates, by leaving the EU, the UK will instead be swapping one set of complex relations with the EU and its member states for another; but there will continue to be those complex relations, and there will still be the interdependence that such relations bring, from trade to scientific research, from energy to climate change. This will remain true, whatever the final detail of the future relationship, if and once it has been negotiated.

The UK has always hovered on and about the perimeter of the EU version of the European integration process. Aloof at the beginning, in 1952 and 1957, by 1963 the UK was knocking on the door, and by 1973 it was in. By 1975 it could already have left through a ‘should we stay, yes/no?’ referendum (held just two years after it had joined) and, if Michael Foot’s Labour Party had won the General Election in 1983, the party’s manifesto promised that the new government would immediately open negotiations with the then EEC in order to prepare for the UK’s withdrawal – without recourse to a referendum.

Brexit mural by Banksy in Dover, Credit: ijclark (CC BY 2.0)

Over the 45 years of the UK’s membership there have been difficult periods in the relationship. There were Margaret Thatcher’s repeated demands at European summits before she won a budgetary rebate at Fontainebleau (1985). Significant low points would also include: ‘Black Wednesday’ (1992), when the UK government was unable to keep the pound above its agreed lower level and was forced to withdraw it from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism; John Major’s 1996 policy of non-cooperation in the wake of the BSE crisis; and David Cameron’s 2011 veto of a proposed fiscal compact to shore up the euro. High points in the relationship would include Margaret Thatcher’s championing of the 1986 Single Market project, Tony Blair’s (albeit ill-fated) 1997 commitment to the single currency and the 2005 Blair-inspired informal European summit at Hampton Court, when a for once entirely pro-active UK presidency generated a raft of positive reform proposals (on, for example, energy policy and climate change). Cumulatively, the UK has given the impression of being semi-detached.

But, with the benefit of hindsight, historians will probably identify the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall as the critical turning point for the UK/EU relationship. French strategic diplomacy saw economic and monetary union (EMU) as the quid pro quo for German unification. The UK’s counter-proposal of a parallel currency never won support. Instead, John Major won a unilateral opt-out which, in 1992, with a Union of just twelve member states (euro-sceptical Sweden and Denmark, the latter with an opt-in, amongst them) and the Maastricht Treaty’s EMU provisions looking over-ambitious, must have seemed like a good rear-guard defensive bet. But the 1995, 2004 and 2007 enlargements added a mass of new member states which, through their membership, were committed to respecting the Maastricht convergence criteria and adopting the euro when they could (Britain, always a major proponent of enlargement, seemed not to have foreseen this consequence).

The 2008 financial crisis not only plunged several eurozone member states into fiscal mayhem but obliged a reluctant European Union to acknowledge that the eurozone member states had to establish their own coordination mechanisms and structures within the EU’s overarching architecture; and the Greek debt crisis made it evident that urgent treaty-based reforms were necessary to overcome the EMU’s structural weaknesses. Angela Merkel said as much in her 2010 Bruges speech:

“That’s why we have said that in case such a crisis recurs, in case the euro and the monetary union as a whole are someday in danger again, we need a mechanism that can manage crises and that is anchored in the Treaty. That’s why we have decided on a limited Treaty amendment…”

Perhaps it was that vision, of treaty amendments and, at the very least, attendant constitutional referendums in Ireland and Denmark, that concentrated David Cameron’s thoughts. The German chancellor, increasingly aware of the risk of a referendum setback, later changed her mind about the need for treaty amendments. But for Cameron, the twin challenges remained the same, as set out in his 2013 Bloomberg speech:

“Britain is not in the single currency, and we’re not going to be. But we all need the Eurozone to have the right governance and structures to secure a successful currency for the long term. And those of us outside the Eurozone also need certain safeguards to ensure, for example, that our access to the Single Market is not in any way compromised.”

Having made his commitment to a referendum, Cameron returned to these concerns when negotiating his 2016 New Settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union. The Settlement, which fell with the June 2016 referendum result was, as Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK permanent representative to the EU has recently described it, ‘the last attempt to amplify and entrench British exceptionalism within the EU legal order.’ This episode illustrated once again the lengths to which the EU was prepared to go to accommodate the UK and acknowledge its exceptional status. But it is a moot point as to whether that exceptionalism could have continued indefinitely. Perhaps, in the longer run, the UK would have been faced with a binary choice – either joining the currency union, or leaving the European Union.

Perhaps Denmark and Sweden may ultimately face a binary choice. Denmark, which won an opt-in right in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, held a referendum on euro membership in 2000. Membership was rejected then, though there is recurring talk of a second referendum. Sweden, on the other hand, has no opt-out or opt-in and is theoretically obliged to prepare for membership of the single currency. However, membership was rejected in a 2003 referendum and though the country’s mainstream parties all favour membership, the country is currently making no preparations for entry. The absence of the UK and its exceptional status outside the eurozone will, in any case, put pressure on these countries to reconsider their relationship with the euro at some stage.

Looked at from the perspective of the European integration process, the UK is just one, albeit an important one, of a number of European countries hovering on or about the perimeter and with whom relations require special attention and more-or-less special arrangements. If the decision had been left to its parliament, Norway would have joined the EEC alongside the UK, Ireland and Denmark, in 1973. Its government had even signed the accession treaty in readiness. A second referendum in 1994 confirmed majority popular opposition to membership, leaving Norway in EFTA and the European Economic Area (EEA).

Iceland blew hot in 2009 and applied for membership, but blew cold in 2015 and ended its application process, remaining instead in EFTA and the EEA. Switzerland, with its complicated political and constitutional mechanisms, applied for membership in 1992 but suspended negotiations later the same year. It has had a continuously fraught relationship with the EU based on a myriad of bilateral agreements, many requiring frequent re-negotiation (the whole basic relationship is currently under review). And Switzerland is in EFTA but not the EEA. When it comes to the Schengen area, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are all effectively members, though none are EU member states, whereas Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom are not, though all are EU member states.

Within the European Union’s immediate neighbourhood are the five candidate countries – Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. As the EU’s General Affairs Council noted in June 2018, “Turkey has been moving further away from the European Union. Turkey’s accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill.” But the same Council also noted that, “Turkey remains a candidate country and a key partner in many areas.” All five candidate countries are members of the Council of Europe. Three – Albania, Montenegro and Turkey – are full NATO members, whilst Macedonia and Serbia are partner countries (and Macedonia is about to become a full member). Beyond these, the European Union’s over-arching Neighbourhood Policy, its stabilisation and association process, and the Barcelona (Euro-Mediterranean) Process seek to manage the EU’s relationships with countries such as Algeria and Morocco (in 1987 the latter even applied for EU membership – an application rapidly rejected on the grounds that Morocco was not a European country) to the south and Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to the east.

Space precludes more detailed coverage of all aspects of the patchwork quilt, but some of the more notable recent developments would include the EU’s 2017 Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy, the EU’s 2017 integrated policy for the Arctic region (a perimeter directly involving three EU Member States – Denmark, Finland, Sweden – but also the EFTA/EEA states, Iceland and Norway) and the 2017 Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in security and defence, involving 25 of the current 28 EU member states (excluding Denmark, Malta and the UK). Analysing relations with the Russian Federation which, like Turkey, has most of its landmass in Asia, would also require more space than is available here.

But from all of the foregoing it can be seen that the patchwork quilt effectively covers the whole European continent and, even if the direction of relative travel may change in some respects – the UK leaving the European Union, Turkey drifting away from accession – the general trend is towards ever-closer integration. Specific dynamics internal to the continent are encouraging this trend – economic integration, energy, migration. But external dynamics loom ever-larger. David Cameron aptly summed up the challenge in his 2013 Bloomberg speech:

“The challenges come not from within this continent but outside it. From the surging economies in the East and South. Of course, a growing world economy benefits us all, but we should be in no doubt that a new global race of nations is underway today. A race for the wealth and jobs of the future. The map of global influence is changing before our eyes.”

The challenge from the East – particularly China’s burgeoning economy and geopolitical influence, but also the Indian and other Asian economies – is already the subject of much concern. The challenge from the South is only now beginning to emerge into public consciousness. It can be illustrated through simple demographic statistics. In 1950, Germany, Italy and the UK were among the ten most populous countries in the world. By 2015, they had long since gone, replaced by the likes of Brazil, Pakistan and Nigeria. By 2100, five of the ten most populous countries in the world will come from the African continent – Congo, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania (the others will be China, India, Indonesia, the USA and Pakistan). It is this stark prospect that led European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to declare in his September 2018 State of the Union address:

“Africa is the future: By 2050, Africa’s population will number 2.5 billion. One in four people on earth will be African. … Africa does not need charity, it needs true and fair partnerships. And Europe needs this partnership just as much.”

Already, in March 2018, 49 of the African Union’s 55 member states signed an agreement to create an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which, if ratified, will represent the largest free trade area in the world in terms of participating countries since the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995.

Seen from these perspectives, the Brexit process is a distraction, a diversion, albeit painful and traumatic, but one that will almost certainly be subsumed in the overall trend towards greater integration. For the only way Europe can continue to punch its weight in the world is by pulling together. It was no idle boast when Juncker declared in the same speech that the EU’s “global trading position is the living proof of the need to share sovereignty. The European Union now has trade agreements with 70 countries around the world, covering 40% of the world’s GDP.” The EU is, as Sir Ivan Rogers put it in an earlier speech, ‘a regulatory and trade giant.’ As the Union seeks to embrace the whole African continent in a trading partnership it would be a great irony if the mercantilist UK were to deny itself the trading opportunities such a partnership would create and which it would probably be unable to negotiate on its own.

In any case, taking the longer-term view, the UK may become more or less semi-detached but, in one way or another, it will remain attached to the European continent’s only viable survival strategy in a rapidly evolving world.

This article gives the views of the authors, not the position of LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics. It was originally published on EUROPP – European Politics and Policy.

Martin Westlake is Visiting Professor in the Department of European Political and Administrative Studies, College of Europe, Bruges, Senior Visiting Fellow, European Institute, and David Davies of Llandinam Research Fellow, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science.

The European Investment Bank is becoming increasingly politicised

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is intended to provide finance and expertise for investment projects that further EU policy objectives. But as Daniel Mertens and Matthias Thiemann explain, a steady expansion of the bank’s operations over the last two decades has prompted greater political debate over its governance and activities. They highlight three recent developments that underline this politicisation of the EIB.

Over the past two decades, the European Investment Bank (EIB) has become the world’s largest multilateral financial institution. In 1999, the EU member states’ ‘policy-driven’ bank counted around 1,000 staff members. This number is now close to 3,000. In 1999, the EIB’s balance sheet stood at 200 billion euros. It now stands at 550 billion euros.

While this has given the bank an enormous push in its organisational capabilities, it has also come with higher visibility, calls for transparency and accountability, and mounting political tensions. This process of politicisation is characteristic for the post-crisis evolution of the European Union, and apparently does not stop at the European Commission’s door or the European Central Bank (ECB). Three recent episodes in particular highlight why more attention should be focused on the EIB.

The EIB and investment policy under austerity

The proximate cause for the EIB’s increasing politicisation lies in the financial and economic crisis that started ten years ago. Faced with an outsized aggregate demand shock, the EIB took up the role of a counter-cyclical investment vehicle, increasing lending from 2008 onwards (in the years 2008-2011, balance sheet growth was 50 per cent, from 310 to 471 billion euros). While it first followed up on requests by member states and the Commission to ‘contribute to the recovery of the real economy’, and then, in the wake of the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis, provided support to the Europe 2020 Project Bond Initiative, the EIB quickly moved into debates over the stronghold of austerity policies.

European Investment Bank, Credit: Forgemind ArchiMedia (CC BY 2.0)

Former staff began promoting the bank as a powerful tool to address deficient growth in the EU. With structural funds as buffers, the EIB was to facilitate riskier projects to close the investment gap and offer an alternative draft to fiscal orthodoxy. This idea, mirroring a similar proposal by progressive economists Varoufakis, Galbraith and Holland, was taken up by the incoming Commission in 2014, where a compromise between the S&D and EPP before Jean-Claude Juncker’s election led to the establishment of the Investment Plan for Europe.

At this point, the bank gained political attention as a tool for some sort of consolidation-friendly investment policy – or in the words of the bank: ‘doing more with less’. But it also drew attention to how this investment policy would actually be conducted: civil society actors such as the NGO Counterbalance increasingly criticised the bank’s policy on a range of issues from environmental impact to tax avoidance and the widespread use of PPPs. This undesired political spotlight on the part of the EIB was only to intensify in the coming years. And currently, the EIB faces pressures from the Commission’s proposal for a reformed investment policy, investEU, that could break its privileged access to the EU budget.

The EIB and Brexit

The EIB’s expanded role in the crisis could not be realised, however, without an increase of the paid-in and callable capital provided by its shareholding member states. Currently, Germany, France, Italy and the UK are the four largest shareholders accounting each for more than 39 billion euros or 16 per cent of total capital. Unsurprisingly, the outlook of Brexit has led to several sites of political tensions around this fact and the future of the EIB. In Britain, it has stirred a discussion and parliamentary inquiry over how to compensate for the withdrawal of EIB funding that in 2015 still was at 5.6 billion euros, but fell to 2.1 billion euros in 2017.

While close observers of the EIB such as Stephany Griffith-Jones have suggested the UK could stay in the EIB, the bank has conversely asked its remaining shareholders to prepare for filling the capital gaps Britain bequests. This has opened up two debates: first, a group of seven countries, as the Financial Times reported, demanded extensive reforms before they would agree on contributing more capital, leading the EIB to negotiate over supervision by the ECB. Second, Poland has argued that post-Brexit contributions should include an adjustment of the relative shares in the bank, more adequately reflecting the changing economic weight of member states – a demand which, expectedly, has met with resistance from the larger countries. What this tells us is that recent politico-economic developments have produced a rift through member states prompting questions of principle about the governance of the bank and its future activities.

The EIB and diplomatic conflict

The third episode of ongoing politicisation grows out of the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. from the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. Subsequently, the EU has tried to save the deal and safeguard European companies and financial institutions doing business in Iran from associated U.S. sanctions through several measures, one of which is the expansion of EU guarantees for EIB lending in Iran within the so-called External Lending Mandate.

As the European Parliament’s Research Service explains, adding Iran to the list of ‘potentially eligible regions and countries’ for EIB lending does not oblige it to do any business. EIB president Werner Hoyer has indeed made clear that extending the mandate for the EIB does not lead to any actual EIB activity in Iran. Quite to the contrary, he asserted that Iran is a place “where we cannot play an active role… [and] have to take note of the fact that we would risk the business model of the bank if we were active in Iran.” In turn, the bank is facing headwinds from politicians claiming a stronger role for the EU as a global actor, such as Carl Bildt.

Although global diplomacy is a peculiar playing field, the processes at play are instructive for the political tensions around the EIB at large. First, the EIB faces a similar problem in all three cases: how does it shield itself from a pool of political demands that has grown as much as its own capacities? Second, it commonly responds to those by referring to its dependence on (U.S.) capital markets for raising funds and emphasises its conservative risk management for maintaining a high investment grade (AAA). Any significant move into riskier waters, as policymakers have called for, would also risk its rating, the bank states. This is also the reason why EIB lending within the Investment Plan for Europe or the External Lending Mandate entails guarantees from the EU budget.

However, this will not reduce the political contention about the tasks of and control over the bank. Rather, the EIB has now repeatedly positioned itself as an institution able to tackle global challenges from climate change to migration; and in this sense, it is likely that the bank has fuelled its own politicisation.

This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE Brexit, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. It first appeared on EUROPP – European Politics and Policy.

Daniel Mertens is a Researcher and Lecturer at the Institute for Political Science at Goethe University Frankfurt and currently Acting Professor in Internationally Comparative Political Economy at the University of Osnabrück.

Matthias Thiemann is Assistant Professor at Sciences Po CEE. He is also an external fellow at the Research Center SAFE (Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe), Goethe University Frankfurt.

MEPs Demand an End to the Change of Time in 2020

The European Parliament's Agriculture Committee today voted to stop the change from winter to summer time in 2020. This was announced by MEP Momchil Nekov (BSP, S & D), who is a member of the commission.

A survey of European citizens last year showed that the majority of Europeans want this practice to stop. In Bulgaria there was also a poll that showed that most Bulgarians also want to stop this shift.

In September 2018, the European Commission proposed that the EU should put an end to the change of time as early as March 2019. However, given the decision-making process in the EU and the need for sectors such as transport and aviation, this time-limit would cause turbulence and problems.

For this reason, MEPs believe that it would be most realistic and smooth to make the switch to 2020. The proposal for a directive allows Member States to change their area if they consider their choices to be a nuisance. This must be done with a notice to the European Commission.

The opinion voted today also voted texts recommending that countries explore what would be the most appropriate time for them and harmonize with each other to avoid illogical time zones and breaches of the single market.

How Brexit affects Italy – and its Eurosceptical politicians

elisabeth alberHow will Brexit affect Italy’s businesses, its citizens and its political landscape? Elisabeth Alber (Eurac Research) explains that while the country now has an avowedly Eurosceptical government, Italians have mixed feelings towards the EU. It is unclear how many Italians have been living in the UK, but Italy’s hopes of attracting them back seem to have been fruitless.

Brexit will undoubtedly affect the EU’s Member States in different ways, but trying to quantify or even just schematise the impact it will have is immensely challenging. In a 2018 study, the European Committee of the Regions assessed the likely impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on regions and cities in the EU27. Some Italian regions figure among those EU regions that could be most affected by Brexit, especially in the sectors of machinery, textile and furniture (for example, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Marches).

giuseppe conte

Italian PM Giuseppe Conte at the European Parliament, February 2019. Photo: European Parliament via a CC-BY-4.0 licence: © European Union 20XY – Source: EP.

Italian businesses

The results of the study confirm what Italian businesspeople have said ever since the referendum: Brexit impacts the Italian (export) economy. With Brexit, Italy becomes the third biggest economy in the EU. However, given its political instability, this is only a theoretical promotion. Businesses are therefore looking for their own solutions to deal with the implications of Brexit.

Not only does Brexit impact Italy’s economy, it also creates uncertainty for the large number of Italian citizens living and working in the UK. According to the Italian embassy in London, many Italians are revising their plans to stay in the UK, or have already left. However, the desired reverse brain drain has not materialised, because the Italian labour market is not able to attract Italians leaving the UK. In general, it is difficult to estimate how many Italians live in the UK and to grasp what they intend to do. This because not all of them are registered as Italians residing abroad. By law, Italians residing abroad or intending to do so for a longer period are obliged to register, but not all of them do so, mainly so as not to lose basic rights in Italy.

The coalition government

While Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte stresses the need for an orderly Brexit and acts as a mediator in the tense relationship between Italy and the EU, his two deputies, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, do not miss any chance to enter into open conflict with the EU. The populist coalition government, sworn in on 1 June 2018, aims at a drastic revision of Italy’s longstanding pro EU-policy and the underlying principles and frameworks of the EU’s set-up. Unlike preceding governments, the current government formed by the anti-establishment party Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle – M5S) and the right-wing party League (Lega) is anything but EU-friendly. Both deputy Prime Ministers, Luigi Di Maio (M5S) and Matteo Salvini (Lega) personally support referendums on fundamental questions about the EU, though they are not currently on the agenda. Back in 2016, neither leader hesitated to congratulate the UK’s political elites and electorate for being so courageous in, on the one hand, consulting the electorate over such an important question, and on the other starting the process of regaining sovereignty over the country’s own fate. In social media posts, they stressed that Euroscepticism had at last picked up steam, and that Italy should follow the UK’s example in using referendums for fundamental decision-making.

Academic and political analysts

Academics and political analysts barely addressed the question of whether direct democracy was the right remedy for political disenchantment – partly because the media failed to draw attention to the issue. They have mainly confined themselves to evaluating its implications for UK’s parliamentary sovereignty, and on Italy. The chance to start a debate on how to renew decision-making processes within the EU and its Member States was missing, in part because of the political turmoil that characterised Italy between 2016-2018 (constitutional referendum on 4 December 2016 – resignation of Matteo Renzi as Prime Minister – 64th Government under Paolo Gentiloni – general elections on 4 March 2018).

Public opinion

In most western EU Member States, the public reacted with incomprehension to Brexit. This was not the case in Italy. According to data from 2016, Italians showed understanding for the UK’s desire to withdraw from the EU (Poli 2016). Figures from the November 2018 Standard Eurobarometer 90 (European Commission 2018) confirm the mistrust of Italians for the EU, but do not reveal to what extent Italians support the coalition government’s narrative on the EU. In short, the level of trust and mistrust remains unchanged in comparison with the spring 2018 survey.

When asked what the EU should worry about most, Italians rank migration, unemployment and economy at the top, while nationally, Italians rank unemployment first, then migration and the economy. Interestingly, Romania and Italy are the only states where one in five respondents are against the principle of freedom of movement (overall, a large majority of EU citizens are in favour of it). Respondents in all EU Member States (strongly) support the use of the single currency (a new high since 2004!). In Italy, 63% support the euro. This is a rise of two percentage points compared to spring 2018. Asked whether they feel they are citizens of the EU, Italians are among the citizens with the lowest figures. Only 59% of the respondents answered positively.

A variety of contradictory narratives

The analysis of Italian narratives on Brexit and the EU shows that there is no clear answer to the question of how friendly or hostile to the EU Italian stakeholders are. At present, views and insights are subject to populist reflexes, and Brexit is discussed on the margins. In theory, the coalition’s Eurosceptical roadmap is already drawn up. In practice, the governing parties are running the gauntlet between their own political crises in Rome, and those with Brussels. A variety of contradictory narratives is the outcome and reconciling them seems impossible. Much will depend on the outcome of the EU parliamentary elections on 26 May 2019.

The post represents the views of the author and not those of LSE Brexit. It summarises the results of the research project The Brexit and EU Member States (case study Italy) led by the Department of Political Science of the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. Elisabeth Alber analysed more than 1.000 media entries (from 2016-2018) and assessed views and insights of Italian stakeholders on Brexit, and the EU. The detailed results are published in German (Elisabeth Alber, “Italien und der Brexit: Europapolitische Ansichten und Einsichten im Triennium 2016-2018”, in: Thorsten Winkelmann/Tim Griebel (Hrsg.), Der Brexit und die Krise der europäischen Integration. EU und mitgliedstaatliche Perspektiven im Dialog, Nomos, Baden-Baden, 2018, 177-189).

Elisabeth Alber is Senior Researcher at the Institute for Comparative Federalism in Eurac Research.

Why lobbying in Brussels is not always an obscure activity

Lobbying in Brussels is often envisioned as an activity that takes place behind closed doors, away from the spotlight of public scrutiny. Yet at the same time, some lobbyists intentionally seek media attention to win their policy battles. Drawing on a recent study, Iskander De Bruycker explains that media attention can help EU lobbyists attain their policy objectives, but only if they manage to frame their position as being in the public interest.

Brussels currently houses some 15,000 lobby organisations, employing over 30,000 lobbyists. All try to affect EU policy decisions on a daily basis. While this lobbying is often considered to be an obscure activity, conducted outside of public scrutiny, some lobbyists intentionally seek the mass media’s attention to try and further their policy goals.

But what determines the success of these interventions through the media? In a recent study of 125 different EU legislative cases (2008-2010), I have analysed whether appeals to the public interest in the media support lobby groups in realising their policy objectives. My findings indicate that participating in news media debates does not significantly affect lobbying success.

What matters for lobby groups in realising their policy goals is whether their goals are framed as being in the public interest, i.e. the interests of ‘the people’, ‘citizens’, ‘consumers’, or ‘the European public’. About 19% of the lobby groups in my study managed through the media to connect their own goals with the interests of European citizens. This was true not only of citizen action groups, but also corporate lobby organisations, who saw their lobbying success improved when addressing public interests in the news.

Media strategies matter

Before lobby groups can present themselves as the people’s protectors in the mass media, journalists first need to include the groups’ claims in news stories. Journalists seem to have, however, no decisive impact on interest groups’ influence via the mass media. The data in my study shows that the impact of public interest frames on lobbying success is mostly triggered by lobbying strategies geared at attracting media attention. Lobby groups that develop a full-fledged publicly oriented strategy (organising press conferences, media campaigns, protest events, etc.) and manage to appeal to public interests in the news, will see their policy success improved.

This beneficial effect does not hold true for lobbyists who never actively sought media attention themselves, but nevertheless ended up in media debates. The positive effect of public interest frames are thus mostly a result of lobbyists’ strategies, rather than journalistic routines and selection processes. At the same time, journalists should always be critical when lobbyists present their own goals as beneficial to the greater good and whether or not such a statement is relevant to their news story.

The quest for the Holy Grail

What is unique about my analysis is that I adopt two different measures of lobbying success: one based on interviews with lobbyists and the other based on interviews with spokespersons of the European Commission. Both measures are shown in the figure below.

Figure: Lobbying success and participation in media debates

Note: For more information, see the author’s journal article.

The figure shows the predicted chances of lobbying success for groups that did and did not appeal to public interests in the news. Both measures support the research findings. Public affairs practitioners and academics face many hurdles in estimating political influence. Measuring political influence is much like a quest for the Holy Grail. But by combining different measures of success, we can arrive at reliable, evidence-based estimates. Incorporating complementary measures should be the next golden standard in studies on political influence as such measures can capture how successful lobbyists perceive themselves, but also how successful others perceive them to be.

Finally, my findings indicate that a lobby group’s resources and the types of constituencies it represents are not consequential for success. What matters are the strategies lobbyists develop and how these fit in the overall public affairs context. Of course, developing a sophisticated lobbying strategy takes resources and expertise. But how resources are spent is more important than the resources themselves. For instance, in debates over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, it was not the more resourceful business corporations which prevailed, but the civil society groups that were able to articulate a pervasive signal of public support.

These findings are important in evaluating the EU’s vulnerability to non-democratic forms of political influence and biases towards the corporate world. The findings point to a potential loophole in EU democratic decision making: lobbyists may cloak their self-interests and impact EU policy by falsely presenting themselves as the people’s voice. We need more research to clarify whether lobbyists who present their goals in the media as being aligned with public interests are genuinely representing the views of the broader public. At the same time, citizens, journalists and politicians should remain vigilant of lobbyists who portray their goals as being in the public interest.

This article gives the views of the authors, not the position of LSE Brexit or the London School of Economics. It was originally published on LSE EUROPP and draws on the author’s published work in Political Communication. The data used in the study are the result of a large-scale collaborative research project, funded by the European Science Foundation.

Iskander De Bruycker is a Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer at the University of Antwerp.

100 Days Before European Elections

The European Union meets in Strasbourg 100 days before the European elections, reported the Bulgarian National Television. 

373 million Europeans will have the right to vote at these European elections. 3.4 million will vote for the first time. These data was reported during a press conference.

The last session of this EP will be between 11 and 18 April. Many non-governmental organizations, civil organizations, intellectuals and many volunteers have shown interest in these European elections.

On 15 May, a debate will be held among the leading candidates. Five political formations have already elected their candidate for the future president of the European Commission.

Later in the afternoon, a debate will be held in the plenary session on the report by Bulgarian MP Eva Maydell to reduce bank fees for cross-border transfers. It turns out that in Bulgaria these fees are the highest of all countries across the EU.

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