HOWDY. We’re reaching the point, if we haven’t arrived there already, where many of you are spending a lot of time and client money lobbying MEPs on files that won’t be completed before those MEPs leave office. It’s a living, and I’m not knocking it — more commiserating, really.
ON THE RECORD
“We’ve done more extensive surveys on political content; it turns out that people don’t want to see that much political content on Facebook and Instagram. Therefore, we need to adjust ourselves.”
— Marisa Jiménez Martín, Meta’s deputy head of EU affairs, at the Edelman Trust Barometer event on March 16. More on that below.
DEFENSE SECTOR GOES ON OFFENSE: For something created as a peace project, the European Union turns out to have a pretty generous war chest — and lobbyists are gearing up to help pry it open.
“The EU is becoming a player, in a way,” says Camille Grand, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “All the defense companies in Brussels are more engaged with the EU than they’ve ever been.”
Grand, who served as the top NATO official for defense investment until last year, says he was “always struck by the fact that many of these companies had only a limited understanding” of how the EU and NATO work, “partially because there was no direct business for many of them.”
New business: That’s changing. With EU leaders set to give their final sign-off this week on a plan to lock arms and buy arms together, the bloc is speeding toward a new stage of defense integration. In the lead-up, weapons-makers from both sides of the Atlantic have been clamoring for face time with key commissioners and MEPs, while lobbying firms are drafting military experts for their Brussels office.
JUNCKER’S LEGACY: Ukraine is an “accelerator” for EU defense integration — but it wasn’t the instigator, says Benoît Chaucheprat, a co-founder of C&V Consulting, a thee-year-old boutique firm unique in Brussels for its focus on defense. (It’s growing — see the Influencers section.)
Credit for that goes to former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Though the is EU legally barred from using its budget to fund military activities, Juncker found a work-around in 2016: make weapons part of the EU’s industrial strategy. The result today is an €8 billion pot of cash, the European Defense Fund, to boost defense research and development.
GETTING IN ON THE ACTION: Some agencies are staffing up: APCO Worldwide has a call for job candidates with connections in the Commission’s DEFIS and NATO. “Space and defence are a growing policy area for us and our clients,” the LinkedIn ad says.
Tapping the brakes: EU defense is still a risky bet. Lobbying execs were loath to discuss business strategy publicly, while some — including those with robust national-level defense practices — privately acknowledged that their research hasn’t yet prompted them to pull the trigger on more Brussels-based offerings.
STAY TUNED: Check politico.eu later for more on this from Lili Bayer and me.
It’s said that Washington is “Hollywood for ugly people.” So what does that then make Brussels? Well, there’s nothing like a bona fide sex symbol to make a pitch for EU legislation against online child sexual abuse material, as actor Ashton Kutcher did this week. (Note to FGS Global: I’m sure this was a nice, substantive panel discussion and all, but next time you throw one of your networking shindigs, how about you invite one of your clients, eh?)
PITCHING THE INFLUENCERS
MR. EDELMAN GOES TO BRUSSELS: For this American political reporter immersed in the Brussels bubble for the past six years, it’s always fascinating to see reminders of my former self — viewing American operatives through European eyes. An event by the American PR behemoth Edelman last week showed the promise — and peril — of bringing U.S.-style comms to the EU seat.
Tough crowd: The culture clash was evident as soon as I walked in, slightly late, to Edelman’s event debuting European-only crosstabs of its annual Trust Barometer survey. A joke from CEO Richard Edelman that would have landed an easy, rapport-building laugh in D.C., something about being used to top-down power because of Moses receiving the 10 commandments on the mountain, instead drew a couple of uncomfortable titters from the few people who put together the implications of the (unabashedly Jewish) joke.
TRUST BAROMETER FINDINGS: The report broke out responses from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the U.K. from a broader survey of 28 countries. And it offered something for pretty much everyone in the room (EU officials, public affairs pros, journalists) to feel bad about. Read it here.
Distrust: It showed that government, media and NGOs are generally distrusted — companies barely managed to get a neutral rating (page 8). And in contrast to business writ large, people don’t like those in charge — page 11 showed CEOs tied government leaders for least-trusted institutional leaders.
Disinfo: “Government and Media Fuel Cycle of Distrust, Seen as Sources of Misleading Information” reads the slide on page 10.
GLIMMER FOR COMPANIES: Compared to government, media and NGOs in Europe, only businesses received ratings as both competent — and ethical. That, along with data showing citizens want to see business leaders weigh in on major issues like climate change and discrimination, despite the risk of looking political, prompted Edelman PR’s playbook (and implicit pitch).
The game plan: “Government had a bad pandemic, and it’s really hurt the reputation of government, and it will take a while” to fix it, Edelman said. “So when I talk to CEOs, I say: ‘You’ve got to continue to stand up. Why? Because employees and customers expect it.’”
THE REACTIONS: To American ears, this was a pretty milquetoast message. But it caused some passionate responses at the event space just off Schuman Circle.
From government: While the consultants’ broader presentation stressed the need for businesses to collaborate with government, the rhetoric clearly riled those working for the institutions.
“If you say, governments/democracy to [some] extent has failed, and it’s the role of business to step in: This is the same language — in the same line of language, as was used at CPAC,” said Philipp Schulmeister, acting head of campaigns and public opinion monitoring for the European Parliament, referring to a far-right gathering that’s aligned with Donald Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Schulmeister, a panelist, added that in the year leading up the to European Parliament elections, “To say: ‘Democracy is gone, and someone else needs to step in … business, strongman, whatever.’ I think that’s dangerous.”
From business: A lobbyist in the audience who represents alcoholic beverages had not so much a question but an expression of exasperation. “I heard that business is invited to partner with government. And that business is invited to advocate for truth. But the business should not get involved into contentious societal issues in a polarized society,” she said. “So basically, we’re supposed to work together, but business is not necessarily welcome at the table.”
OUR QUESTION: EU Influence asked, essentially, given that people see politicians as being manipulated by lobbyists, and journalists as being spun out by PR pros — what’s the role of consultants in this distrustful dystopia?
Answer attempt 1: Rocco Renaldi, helming the Edelman panel as chair of its new Brussels lobbying arm since the recent acquisition of the firm he founded, Landmark Public Affairs, delivered a defense of lobbying as a part of democracy. Not exactly what we were after.
Answer attempt 2: Richard Edelman offered up this more direct reply: “What’s the role of PR? My view is, our job is to say what companies should be doing and then express [that] through good communications. If we’re not advising on the ‘do,’ then we’re not doing our job.”
Homesickness: We were haggling over attribution with both public and private players as the deadline of this newsletter approached. The above exchange reminded me of another thing I miss about political reporting in the U.S.: confident lobbyists, campaigners and comms pros who will engage directly — on the record.
CALLING OUT THE UNREGISTERED: The Transparency Register has a fascinating new section: Every day, the secretariat updates a list of suspended entries, and those entries stay in that list unless/until whatever problem that prompted their removal is fixed.
Slacking has consequences: While entries can be removed because of some sort of investigation (No Peace Without Justice was suspended in the wake of Qatargate breaking in December, for example), failure to do the annual update on time is also grounds for suspension. Given loud promises from Commission officials and MEPs to not meet with people who aren’t on the register, this could pose a real problem for suspended groups.
Big names falling off: We were surprised by how many prominent players were suspended this week. They include Ericsson (to be updated soon) and Mondelez (should already be back online, reps tell us) and Moët Hennessy (also forgot to update). Some others we spotted but didn’t specifically contact include BlackRock, the Soros Foundation and AXA.
What’s going on? While the carnage is visible, it shouldn’t be surprising. All groups had to update their entries in April 2022 — in line with the new Transparency Register agreement. So now, all those annual updates are coming due — and those that missed the deadline are being called out.
TRANSATLANTIC MOONSHOT ADVOCACY: What do Pfizer’s negotiations with the EU over its COVID-19 vaccines glut have to do with the company’s $43 billion acquisition of Seagen? More than you think — at least according to Alan H.H. Fleischmann, founder of the Washington D.C.-based advisory firm Laurel Strategies, who sent an unsolicited (and somewhat baffling) pitch to my colleague Carlo Martuscelli.
In the message, the public affairs pro said that Pfizer’s deal for the cancer-focused biotech was a “Moonshot 2.0.,” in reference to Pfizer CEO’s name for its COVID-19 vaccine program. It’s thanks to Pfizer’s vaccine success that it can “take on the next great, seemingly intractable, health challenge of our time — cancer.” But, in Fleischmann’s telling, if EU countries back out of buying the vaccines they signed up for, it would be a blow to Pfizer’s wallet; and as a consequence, its ability to do good.
That’s one way to look at it. There are good arguments to be had over whether the capitals are wrong to try and go back on contracts they already signed. But billion-dollar mega-mergers aren’t rare in the world of Big Pharma, and the motive ascribed to them is usually shareholder returns — not philanthropy.
Right to reply: When asked whether he was speaking on Pfizer’s behalf, Fleischmann didn’t reply. A Pfizer spokesperson confirmed that he does work with the U.S. pharmaceutical company, and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has appeared on his podcast in the past.
Pro-tip: Writing “On background with no attribution” at the top of your unsolicited email — without first agreeing to your terms with the journalist you’re contacting — doesn’t guarantee that things will stay on background and without attribution.
— Cefic is promoting Nicola Rega to the role executive director climate change and energy, succeeding Charles-Henri Robert as of April 1.
— Milosh Ristovski is the European Youth Forum‘s new secretary general.
— Nona McElwee is Unilever’s new head of EU office, via Landmark Public Affairs.
CONSULTING & COMMS
— Celine Emma la Cour joined Rasmussen Global to work with sovereign clients, after focusing on relations with Southeast Asia in the European External Action Service.
— Also at Rasmussen’s Brussels office, Lise Erard has been promoted to policy adviser, working primarily with aerospace and sovereign clients.
— C&V Consulting hired Coline Fleho as an EU/NATO institutional relations officer.
— Claudia Stuckmann-Invernizzi joined fuel company Neste as vice president, global head of public affairs, via vetmeds manufacturer Zoetis.
— Hanover Communications’ health team has seen its biggest departure yet, with erstwhile chief Emma Eatwell now leading the global health and life sciences practice at Global Counsel.
— Gabrielė Šimakauskaitė joined ChargeUp Europe as a policy manager, via Dentons Global Advisors.
— Claudie Moreau joined Hanover Communications from the European Parliament’s IMCO Committee as an account executive working on digital policy.
THANKS TO: Lili Bayer, Carlo Martuscelli, Elisa Braun, Laura Kayali and Clothilde Goujard; web producer Martin Hisette and my editor Sonya Diehn