Posts in "Digital" Category

Borgen and the Premier League on the beach…?

In years gone by –  call it Before Digital, or BD – choosing a few paperbacks for leisurely reading on the beach was part of the summer vacation ritual.

Fast forward to After Digital, or AD, and the world promises to be your oyster.

All you need is your favourite digital device and a half-decent internet connection, and you have access to movies, sporting events, books or music on any stretch of sand, anywhere in Europe, at any time.

But this digital cornucopia is always tantalisingly out of reach.

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The end of the digital world is not nigh…

Over the past 24 hours email and social media have been flooded with a panoply of doomsday scenarios following the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on Safe Harbor.

Any sane person could well be led to believe that the end of the digital world is nigh.

So here’s an alternative view.

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Briefing: mHealth on demand

Burson-Marsteller hosted a lunch discussion on Wednesday 16 September on the forthcoming Code of Conduct on mobile health (mHealth) applications, an industry-led initiative launched with the support of the European Commission.

The initiative seeks to foster citizens’ trust and help the development of health applications (‘apps’) while respecting the EU framework on data protection and security.

The debate, held under the Chatham House rule, gathered more than fifty representatives from the EU institutions, industry, trade associations and NGOs at Burson-Marsteller’s premises in Brussels. The discussion was led by Michał Boni MEP (EPP, Poland), Pēteris Zilgalvis, Head of Unit Health and Well-Being at DG Connect, and Michele Pastore, Policy Manager at Samsung Electronics Europe and Chairman of DigitalEurope’s eHealth group.

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Photos  (c) Burson-Marsteller / Suzanne Schols

DSM Briefing: Online platforms

This DSM Briefing is the first of a new series looking at various aspects of the European Commission’s proposals to create a Digital Single Market.

In a digital economy, online platforms have multiplied and become central players acting as multi-sided brokers to ensure the seamless provision of increasingly essential online services.

The value of these intermediaries stems from their facilitating interaction between at least two groups of participants – such as companies and consumers, retailers and customers, or taxi drivers and passengers.

Whether providing shopping, search, travel, networking or financial services, these platforms can wield considerable market power determining to some extent the success or failure of companies competing for business and consumers across the internet.

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Photo  Wikimedia Commons – Intel Free Press

Digital Single Market – Commission at crossroads in development of digital health

The scope of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy is certainly ambitious: copyright, geo-blocking and online shopping are all covered, with the aim of helping consumers and businesses to realise the potential of the digital revolution.

Dig a little deeper, and you also find numerous references to digital health. This is a welcome move, after more than three years of inactivity since the publication of the eHealth Action Plan 2012-2020, the second roadmap to support the development of digital health (eHealth). But at the moment, the strategy is heavy on analysis of the problems, and light on solutions.

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New priorities, new approaches, new structures: what does Juncker’s team have in store in 2015?

One year of institutional change ends; another year of political and policy change begins: on 16 December 2014, the new European Commission agreed its Work Programme for 2015.

The new programme, like the new Commission, aims to break with the past and introduce a new (and more political) way of working. Instead of a long list of actions for years ahead, this plan focuses only on the next twelve months, seeking to ‘clear the decks’ of moribund proposals.

What changes will we see to Europe’s political and policy environment in 2015, and how are the Commission’s working methods adjusting to ‘deliver’ the proposals set out in the Work Programme?

The politics of the 2015 Work Programme

Again underlining the continuity from electoral manifesto, to presidential programme, to detailed work programme, the Commission’s plans for 2015 are based on the same ten-point list of priorities presented by Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) to the Parliament in July.

However, this political continuity can be contrasted with legislative discontinuity, as the Commission seeks to start afresh. One of the main themes of the Work Programme is to abandon old proposals that are blocked in the system; another is to remove ‘regulatory burdens’ (while ensuring high levels of social, environmental and consumer protection). Overall, the focus is clear: economic growth, job creation, and acting only on issues where there are perceived to be concrete benefits for European citizens from EU-level action.

The 2015 programme is smaller than previous years, and has been criticised by MEPs in particular (with Frans Timmermans, the First Vice-President of the Commission, the target of much of the criticism). There are just 23 new legislative ‘packages’ (containing many more legislative and non-legislative initiatives) and 80 current initiatives are to be withdrawn, because they either fail a ’regulatory fitness’ test or are blocked by one or other of the EU’s legislative bodies. The aim was not to list everything, but only that which the Commission believed would be achievable in 2015.

However, the reaction by many MEPs to the Work Programme was negative. Aside from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) Group, other groups drafted parliamentary resolutions criticising the plan. None won a majority, although in the vote on 15 January a majority of MEPs did back amendments that criticised the plan to scrap a set of environmental proposals. Many in the Parliament believe that doing less, even if it is done better, will do little to persuade people that Europe works in their favour.

The contents of the 2015 Work Programme

The Commission grouped its actions under three themes: ‘new initiatives’, ‘cutting red tape’ and ‘clearing the decks’.

Of the 23 new initiatives, the most eye-catching is the €315bn Investment Plan to stimulate the European economy. On 13 January the first legislative element of this Plan – the proposal to create a European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) – was proposed. The Commission hopes to have this new fund in place by June.

Other employment and investment initiatives include a package of measures intended to address long-term and youth unemployment.

Digital Single Market (DSM) measures are included in a single package that aims to give consumers “cross-border access to digital services, create a level-playing field for companies and create the conditions for a vibrant digital economy and society”. Legislative proposals will include an attempt to modernise copyright law. The Vice-President responsible for the DSM, Andrus Ansip (pictured), has already committed himself to ending geo-blocking.

Measures to create an Energy Union focus on supply security, integration of national markets, demand reduction, “decarbonising the energy mix” and promoting research and innovation.

As for internal market measures, the Commission plans to take steps to improve mutual recognition and standardisation, including in services and regulated professions, increase labour mobility and coordinate social security systems to prevent abuse, develop a Capital Markets Union, and boost the competitiveness of the aviation sector.

Elsewhere, economic governance of the eurozone will be addressed, as will tax avoidance, with plans to move to a system under which the country where profits are generated is also the country of taxation – including in the digital economy. The Commission also plans to relaunch work towards a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base.

There will be reviews of the EU’s trade, security, fundamental rights and migration policies, including the Blue Card Directive, the EU-wide work permit for skilled workers from third countries.

Finally, a new inter-institutional agreement on better law-making is planned – which will include a new approach to delegated and implementing acts and a mandatory lobbying register.

79 measures were marked down for evaluation, new studies or withdrawal as part of a mission to cut red tape. Food laws, e-Privacy, audiovisual media services, telecoms, birds and habitats, accounting standards and machinery are among the diverse areas undergoing examination in the coming couple of years.

Of the 80 current initiatives or laws that are being withdrawn, the most eye-catching was the ‘Circular Economy package’, which was intended to increase recycling levels and tighten rules on incineration and landfill. Timmermans told MEPs that he would propose something “more ambitious” in 2015. The proposed Energy Taxation Directive was similarly discarded. Other proposals – such as on maternity leave – were given a stay of execution, and are to be withdrawn should there be no agreement within six months.

The Commission’s new working methods

A new structure for the European Commission – with seven powerful vice-presidents, four of them running specific ‘project teams’ that focus on key priorities – has meant a new way of working.

On 11 November a 38-page Communication from the President to the Commission set out how Juncker wants things done; a further note was sent to the Commission’s services in January, explaining how to give practical effect to the new working methods.

Some elements seem obvious – such as the obligation of commissioners to attend meetings of the College – but nevertheless represent a departure from the past: whereas Catherine Ashton was often absent, her successor as High Representative, Federica Mogherini (pictured), is expected to play the ‘Commission Vice-President’ part of her dual role to a greater degree (and, to this end, she sits in the Berlaymont building with her fellow commissioners, rather than in the European External Action Service headquarters).

The overall tone of the documents – explained in further detail in our Client Briefing – is one of centralisation and politicisation (in terms of political control, rather than necessary party political control).

Previously, technocrats handled issues in minute detail, and the political picture emerged later. Now, the intention is that politics comes at the beginning, and that the civil service will take its direction from the commissioners.

Meanwhile, the Spokesperson’s Service has agreed ‘lines to take’ and (aside from commissioners) the exclusive right to speak on behalf of the Commission. Commissioners’ private offices, or cabinets, no longer have spokespeople, but ‘communications advisors’.

In addition, there is a renewed emphasis on transparency, with an obligation on commissioners, cabinet members and senior civil servants to put on public record any meetings held with interest representatives.

The changes have faced some internal opposition, and meant an increased coordination role for the Secretariat-General, which is supporting the (department-less) vice-presidents.

Martin Selmayr, Juncker’s chef de cabinet, is providing political oversight, alongside the Commission Secretary-General, Catherine Day. They have been part of an ‘inner circle’ (including the President, vice-presidents and their cabinets) who drew up the Work Programme.

Now, that Work Programme is in place. It is time to get on with the job.

This blogpost is a shorter version of a briefing sent to Burson-Marsteller Brussels’ clients in mid-January. Click the button to contact us for more information on how we can help your business or organisation.

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Words  David O’Leary
Photos  (c) European Union 2015

Dear @Xavier_Bettel, it’s time to rotate the @EU_Presidency


In seven months Luxembourg will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. Preparations seem to be well underway, but so far your government has not set up a specific Twitter account for the presidency.

As you may know, the current Italian EU Presidency is quite active on Twitter. It has amassed more than 32,000 followers to its account, @IT2014EU. The Latvian government – which holds the presidency in the first half of 2015 – is already tweeting via two accounts – in English (@EU2015LV), and in Latvian (@ES2015LV). They have a combined total of  more than 3,800 followers.

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