EU Influence: MEP’s media moonlighting — Euroskeptic Qatargate take — Uber’s new EU face

EU Influence: MEP’s media moonlighting — Euroskeptic Qatargate take — Uber’s new EU face
Опубликовано: Thursday, 06 April 2023 14:07

A weekly newsletter on campaigning, lobbying and political influence in the EU.




By SARAH WHEATON


Tips, tales, traumas to @swheaton or [email protected] | View in your browser


HOWDY. Welcome to EU Influence, where our thoughts are with Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges. Nothing is easier than accusing journalists of having a secret agenda, especially when you don’t like what we’re uncovering.


In our sadness and fear for Evan, we’re also channeling special disdain for those who try to co-opt journalists’ imprimatur of neutral inquiry when they are not, in fact, neutral — and are instead actually paid to push an agenda. We’re looking at you, EU Reporter and ilk. While I’m pretty unlikely to get accused of spying for asking snotty questions at receptions, this type of journo-washing might make my colleagues who are on the front lines, like Evan, feel unsafe.


ON THE RECORD


“When I first heard the word ‘stakeholder,’ I had this image of a guy holding a ribeye steak … [I thought,] ‘This is cool. I love steak. I want to be a stakeholder.’ … Now I realize that a stakeholder is somebody else, it’s something very, very different: The stakeholders are usually people that you choose to be lobbied by.”


— Frank Furedi, executive director of MCC Brussels, on March 29.


More on the Hungarian government-backed think tank’s Qatargate event below.


SIDE HUSTLES


MEDIATED MEP REMAINS UNREPENTANT: MEP Petra Kammerevert took heat in 2016 for working on EU legislation about levies and cultural quotas on platforms like Netflix while receiving payments for her side job with a rival part of the industry.


Now, my colleague Clothilde Goujard reports, the German Social Democrat is at it again.


Lead negotiator: Kammerevert still has the same role that raised eyebrows in 2016 — as a board member of the regional German public broadcaster Westdeutsche Rundfunk Köln (WDR). Now, she’s the S&D’s lead negotiator for the EU’s landmark media law.


Seeing links: The WDR broadcasting council has called upon EU legislators to water down the European Media Freedom Act over fears that it could weaken Germany’s media system. Kammerevert and other German MEPs have pushed to downgrade it from a stringent regulation to a more flexible directive. Her position in the WDR — which remunerates her with expense allowances and per diems to the tune of €1,000 to €5,000 a month — hasn’t escaped the notice of Parliament colleagues, Clothilde reports.


Kammerevert’s retort: The gist of Kammerevert’s defense is: Y’all just don’t get it. “I am not a supervisory board member in a private company. This seems to be permanently confused by critics,” she said in a written response. “The task of broadcasting councils is to monitor whether a public broadcaster is fulfilling the programming mandate assigned to it by law. In exercising this control function, I don’t give a damn about the interests of WDR and its management.”


NGOS CALL OUT NIEBLER LINKS: A quartet of watchdog and environmental NGOs on Wednesday submitted a complaint to Parliament President Roberta Metsola about potential conflicts of interest related to German EPP MEP Angelika Niebler’s other jobs, and the Corporate Sustainability and Due Diligence Directive. They argue that Niebler has put forward amendments that “generally weaken the scope of the directive,” which seeks to hold companies accountable for human rights and climate protection along their supply chains.


At issue: Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe, LobbyControl, and Transparency International EU point to Niebler’s board membership of the TÜV SÜD Foundation, which co-owns a certification company that greenlit a dam in Brazil that ultimately burst, and has lobbied on the directive. They also argue that her affiliation with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher poses a conflict, given the U.S. law firm’s many corporate clients who’ve faced suits over operations in the Global South.


Standing by her work: In a statement, Niebler said her work for the organizations in question didn’t relate to EU issues. “I do not supervise, control or influence the operative activities” of the certification body TÜV SÜD, she said, but rather “I supervise and advise” the foundation on its charitable purposes. As for the law firm, Niebler said: “There are no conflict of interests as regards my parliamentary work and my “Of Counsel” activity,” with her work for the Munich office related primarily to in-house acts such as “female lawyers’ empowerment and diversity management.”


RHETORIC OF A SCANDAL


ORBÁN’S THINK TANK TAKES ON QATARGATE: You don’t have to mine Flemish Facebook or run Hungarian state-backed media through Google translate to get a taste of how the Euroskeptic right will wield the Parliament’s corruption scandal. MCC Brussels, the outpost of a Budapest think tank founded last year, is laying out the rhetorical and intellectual case for illiberal democratic disgust right here in the European Quarter. Last week, MCC Brussels Executive Director Frank Furedi and Bruno Waterfield, a Brussels-based contributor to The Times of London, expounded on “‘The origins of Qatargate: What the scandal reveals about the EU.”


The logic: Furedi laid out a series of arguments about the political culture of Brussels …


— Morality vs. rules: “There seems to be no moral discipline” in the European institutions, said Furedi. “And as a sociologist, I know that moral discipline is the only cultural resource that we have to contend [with] corruption. Corruption is not something you can wish away by rules.”


— The bubble becomes the blob: “Access is this fetishized commodity where everybody wants access to somebody else,” said Furedi, who is based in the U.K. but offered his observations after spending a day in the Parliament. “Everybody’s trying to get to somebody who is more important than they are … When you have that dynamic, it does have a profoundly corrupting influence all around — at the very least because you’re no longer what you were beforehand.”


THE SCENE: The audience in the small room was relatively young, and questions came from people who cited their affiliations with Romanian ECR MEP Cristian Tereş and Foundation for a Civic Hungary (which is part of Orbán’s Fidesz).


Looking for a fight: The moderator repeatedly encouraged the audience to challenge the speakers, but questions were limited to friendly fire — a reminder that MCC Brussels’ stated ambition to foster open debate will be a challenge absent people willing to engage.


FUREDI’S NOTE OF CAUTION: Asked to comment on the fact that Qatargate has mostly caught up those on the left, Furedi pushed back. “Conservative people working in the Parliament are not angels,” he said. “I’m fairly sure that you will find that corruption does not recognize ideologies and political commitments within the European Union. And it’s quite important that we don’t, for pragmatic reasons, say, ‘Hahaha, look at the left doing this,’ because it will come back to bite us.”


Pragmatic … and prescient: Indeed, his remarks came just days before Tuesday’s police raid on the European People’s Party offices in Brussels. My colleagues report that it’s connected to Thuringian Christian Democratic Union leader Mario Voigt and his involvement in the EPP’s 2019 European parliamentary elections.


REINFORCEMENTS COMING: The European Conservative, a quarterly published by a Budapest-based nonprofit, is ramping up its Brussels presence.



media

COMMISSION CLAMPDOWN


CUTTING OFF ACCESS: In the wake of various scandals, the Commission appears to be making its officials less accessible. Although less exposure might mean less vulnerability to undue influence, it also arguably means less transparency.


Who’s out of WhoisWho? The institutions’ online address book, EU WhoisWho, is suddenly less complete, according to the Society of European Affairs Professionals. They’ve noticed that details of desk officers and policy assistants in the European Commission have been removed in recent days.


“Removing such information will make the work of those in public affairs more difficult, represent a setback for transparency and lead to a more opaque EU decision-making process,” said Emma Brown, SEAP vice president.


Blocking ‘undue pressure’: The Commission confirmed that it’s only including heads of unit and above in the database from now on, in a bid to protect staff working on “sensitive” files from “undue pressure.” Read more on the rationale here. Still, it’s safe to say that few outside of this newsletter’s readership will be weeping over the fact that lobbyists and journalists will have to hustle a bit harder to pester the bureaucrats.


EU TRAVEL LIMITS TAKE SWIFT EFFECT: The Commission’s new restrictions on taking money for non-EU travel has reached the U.K.’s legal sector. A policy officer from DG COMP, Niklas Brueggemann, was due to speak at a conference hosted by law firms Wilkie and AlixPartners along with barrister chambers Brick Court in London on March 22 — but instead appeared on Zoom at short notice. The Commission tightened its own rules on allowing foreign governments and organizations to pay for staff travel expenses on March 7 after POLITICO revealed the EU’s top transport official signed off on his own free flights to Qatar. His pay’s now been docked of its managerial bonus.


HOT FINNISH GOSSIP


NAKED NETWORKING: Brussels’ hottest new schmooze room is the sauna at NATO HQ. POLITICO’s Ana Fota has this hot story on how the steam bath has always played a role in Finnish diplomacy, including Brussels.


From the FOMO Files: Ana wins the prize for the year’s best dateline: THE SAUNA AT THE FINNISH PERM REP, BRUSSELS. We’ve nakedly requested access to this particular inner sanctum, to no avail — despite our membership in the Washington chapter of the Finnish Diplomatic Sauna Society (with the T-shirt to prove it).


ELECTED, AND YET STILL A META LOBBYIST? The current employment status of Aura Salla — one of the sauna pundits quoted in Ana’s article — is foggy. Salla, Meta’s head of EU affairs, won a seat in the Finnish parliament on Sunday evening. But doesn’t that put her in the weird situation of being elected as a lawmaker while still employed at Meta? Pro Tech’s Pieter Haeck asked Salla, and she clarified that the Finnish Parliament election results are expected to be confirmed only Wednesday — so up until that point, there was no need to notify Meta’s HR department. Still, it’s a safe bet that there will be unprecedented international scrutiny of future Helsinki tech votes.


POPPING IN PARIS


EX-SPACEMAN LAUNCHES LOBBYING TOO SOON: Alain Alexis, a former adviser on space and defense in the Commission’s DG DEFIS working for the consultancy Avisa since January, was spotted mingling with his former colleagues at an international defense conference in Cyprus in February, according to Le Canard Enchainé. That’s an apparent violation of his mandated cooling-off period. Avisa declined to comment to my colleagues at Paris Influence.


INFLUENCERS


UBER’S NEW BRUSSELS TOP DOG: Pieter Haeck shares this scoop with us — ride-hailing app Uber has hired a new lead for its Brussels policy team, just in time for what will be the grand finale of the EU’s gig work plans. Leah Charpentier will fill in the role that Zuzana Púčiková left in January, from May onwards. Charpentier is currently employed in roughly the same role at First Solar, a U.S.-based solar panel manufacturer.


Message meld: In that sense, she’s a good fit for Uber’s latest strategy, as the company looks to tout itself as a partner for more sustainable cities.


Unfinished business: Charpentier will have to deal with what has turned into Brussels’ nightmare file: the EU Platform Work Directive, which could reclassify millions of gig workers (like Uber drivers) into employees instead of contractors. Parliament has adopted its (more pro-worker) stance, while talks in Council have been deadlocked (with a new make-or-break moment looming in June).


Boosting the Brussels volume: Uber has also hired its first Brussels-based policy communications lead: Paolo Ganino, who up until early this year was policy communications manager for Twitter in Brussels. (Previously, Uber’s communication on the EU policy files was led out of London.)


ACADEMIA


Valentin Dupouey — who is blowing up Brussels bubble Twitter with his list of European NGOs — is leaving the European Greens to join the College of Europe as director for external relations, communications and events.


Joep Roet has been promoted to deputy director at the Netherlands House for Education and Research (Neth-ER).


CHEMICALS


Nina Alfano is a new policy officer at Federchimica in Brussels, via the European Shippers’ Council.


CONSULTING & COMMS


Jacob Moroza-Rasmussen, ALDE Party secretary general, will join APCO Worldwide as a senior director in May.


FINANCIAL SERVICES


Erik Nooteboom joined Alber & Geiger as a senior adviser. He left the Commission in 2020 after stints in DG FISMA and DG REGIO.


Kristina Budryte-Ridard has been promoted to managing director at FTI Consulting.


MANUFACTURING


— The board of LightingEurope elected Maurice Maes of Signify as its new president. He succeeds Lionel Brunet of the Syndicat de l’Éclairage.


EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT


— French S&D MEP Eric Andrieu will be replaced by Christophe Clergeau as of June 2. Clergeau is the founder of the strategic consultancy C2Stratégies and a longtime member of the Pays de la Loire Regional Council.


TECH


Rémi Guastalli, previously of EuroCommerce, is now a communication manager at the Big Data Value Association (BDVA).


Alexandra Shoichet has been promoted to director in FTI Consulting EU’s tech, media and telecoms team.


THANKS TO: Clothilde Goujard, Pieter Haeck, Edith Hancock, Eddy Wax, Louise Guillot and Elisa Braun; web producer Giulia Poloni and my editor Sonya Diehn.


SUBSCRIBE to the POLITICO newsletter family: Brussels Playbook | London Playbook | London Playbook PM | Playbook Paris | POLITICO Confidential | Sunday Crunch | EU Influence | London Influence | Digital Bridge | China Direct | Berlin Bulletin | D.C. Playbook | D.C. Influence | Global Insider | All our POLITICO Pro policy morning newsletters