EU Presidency of the Czech Republic: ‘Crisis President’

On 1 July, 2022, the Czech Republic took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from France. Every six months the Presidency of the Council changes and is it the turn of a different Member State. The Czech Republic will work under the slogan “Europe as a task: rethink, rebuild, repower”. In this blog Fieke Creijghton and Valérie Mendes de León look ahead to the EU Presidency of the Czech Republic for the next six months, and with which priorities the Czech Republic will take on this task.

Starting position

In the midst of several crises – the Ukrainian crisis, the climate crisis, the Corona crisis, the energy crisis and rising inflation – POLITICO crowned the Czech Republic as ‘crisis president’. The central European country is expected to focus on mediating these crises. In addition to external challenges, the Czech Republic will also have to prove itself at home. For example, a recent poll by a Czech research firm showed that only 36 percent of its residents is satisfied with the European Union. Among other things, this has caused the Czech Republic to be Eurosceptic in the past. A combination of rising domestic trust and its geographical location between Hungary and Poland makes for an interesting starting position during this presidency.

In addition, the current Czech government consists of a coalition between several European coalitions. With the coalition of conservative liberals (“Together”) and center-left liberal coalition, the Czech coalition parties are represented in no less than three different European political groups of the “Greens,” the “EPP,” and the “ECR”. The internal differences within the Czech coalition couldcause tensions.

Priorities

Central in the Czech Presidency, led by Prime Minister Petr Fiala, is the Russian war in Ukraine. Both the Czech Republic and the EU have indicated that peace in Ukraine is imperative in the coming months. Specifically, the presidency has stipulated five priorities:

  • Rebuilding Ukraine and coordinating the refugee crisis caused by the Russian invasion;
  • Energy security;
  • Strengthening European defense capabilities and cyber security;
  • Strategic resilience the European economy;
  • Resilience of democratic institutions.

Regarding the tensions in Warsaw and Budapest, the new Presidency wants to ensure that all Member States are included in a constructive dialogue.

Energy Transition

One of the Presidency’s priorities concerns ensuring energy supply and energy transition. The Czech Republic wants to build on the European energy infrastructure and strengthen the resilience of the European energy supply. The Czech Republic aims to do this by increasing the role of nuclear energy. In parallel with implementing this vision, Prague has the difficult role of maintaining short-term energy supplies for the winter of 2023, without becoming dependent on long-term fossil fuel contracts. In order to achieve this, the EU has recently adopted the ‘Gas Storage’ proposal, the REPowerEU plan and the plan to jointly purchase gas. It is expected that the Czech Republic will put pressure on progress in these policy areas.

Tech

Within the digital policy domain, two priorities includeincreasing cyber security and making Europe’s economy resilient. The Czech Minister for Digital Affairs, Ivan Rakušan, indicated in an interview with Euractiv that he wants to continue where France ended. Thus, the Czech Republic will take on the implementation of the Digital Markets and Services Acts. Also, the Czech Republic wants to prioritize the AI Act and the creation of the framework for a European Digital Identity. Parallel to the third priority, the goal of reducing technological dependence on countries outside the EU has also been set to counter cyber threats.

In an interview with the Czech magazine Leaders, Czech European Affairs Minister Mikulàš Bek said that in these times of crisis, the priority above all is the daily management of the European Union. The Presidency of Europe as a Task will be mainly about that: accomplishing day-to-day tasks to lead the Union through the crises.

The Czech Republic will hold the Presidency until the end of 2022; in 2023 it will first be Sweden’s turn and then Spain. Do you want to look ahead to the Presidency of these Member States? Or are you curious about how your organization can act upon the Presidents’ priorities? Please do not hesitate to contact us!

Marloes Telgenhof joins Public Matters Team as Senior Director 

On 1 July 2022 Marloes Telgenhof will start as Senior Director at Public Matters. With her extensive experience in business and government – at different policy levels (Brussels, The Hague, provinces and municipalities) – Marloes is a very welcome reinforcement for the Public Matters Team.

Among other things, Marloes worked at the Association FME, the employers’ organization for the technology industry, where she was a program manager for the energy transition in the maritime sector on and around the Wadden Sea. She also contributed to the digitization of the (manufacturing) industry in the Northern Netherlands through the Digital Innovation Hub.

From 2001 to 2011 she held various positions with the central government, including at the Permanent Representation in Brussels, where she focused on research and innovation policy. After that she was responsible for European Affairs and lobbying at Fokker Technologies, Damen Shipyards and trade organization Netherlands Maritime Technology (NMT). She also worked for years as a senior management consultant in the municipality of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

Innovation is the thread that runs through her career: “Innovation in the broadest sense of the word in the ever-changing interaction between market and government – and especially the role of innovation in solving today’s challenges in many sectors – is something that makes my heart beat faster. The business community, government, knowledge institutes and social organizations need each other very much. It is at that intersection that I operate best: connecting, challenging, innovating and making progress together.”

Welcome to Public Matters Marloes! We wish you a lot of success!

Nitrogen crisis puts provinces on lobbyists’ map

The Netherlands has a remarkable number of provinces for a country of its size. Just compare it to Canada. The second largest country in the world has 10 – plus 3 so-called territories. Someone arriving in the Netherlands for the first time might think that the Dutch attach great value to this layer of government. This should be the case in view of the nitrogen issue – and other environmental matters such as permits – but it is not evident from the ballot boxes, for example. Turnout in provincial elections has fluctuated between 45 and 55% since the early 1990s. One reason is that voters don’t have a picture of what the county does. Advocates do or will soon have that in mind.

In the coming period, until after the provincial council elections in March of next year, the province must develop far-reaching policies to reduce the emission of nitrogen drastically on the instructions of Minister Van der Wal-Zeggelink (Nature & Nitrogen). This has consequences for livestock farming, which emits the most ammonia, as well as the industrial, mobility and construction sectors. The latter are underexposed in the media frenzy, but that does not mean that they remain out of range.

The Minister of Nature and Nitrogen is working on a national plan to reduce the other nitrogen source, nitrogen oxides, for which the mobility, industrial and construction sectors are held primarily responsible. Nitrogen oxides blow out further than ammonia, that one ‘nitrogen leg’, and that makes national measures more logical. The provinces can, albeit to a lesser extent, still turn the knobs in the implementation. They will try, because the social tensions are enormous. The ominous comments that nature would not be sufficiently helped even without livestock farming do the rest.

By the way, industry can also be called to task with regard to ammonia emissions. In the National Programme for Rural Areas, Nitrogen Minister Van der Wal-Zeggelink has set the provinces clear targets for reducing ammonia emissions. Because the majority of these emissions come from agricultural sources, the minister feels that the reduction must come primarily from this sector – but not alone. Industry with a permit sometimes emits ammonia near nature reserves and can also have reduction targets imposed on it.

Not everything is set in stone yet. The provinces must provide customization and the ammonia targets can still be adjusted somewhat, for example as a result of measures to reduce nitrogen oxides. The switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy can help with the latter but will take time. Especially when you consider that Limburg and North Brabant, both with a hefty nitrogen task, have announced a temporary halt on new or heavier electricity connections because there is insufficient capacity.

If someone lands in the Netherlands next year after the election, their perception could just be right. The province suddenly matters and it is buzzing with political activity. Advocates will want to make their mark on nitrogen policy.

Photo by Petr Ganaj

Podcast ‘In the Lobby’: an upbeat conversation with Mendeltje van Keulen – practice professor and EU expert

In yet another episode of the Public Matters Podcast ‘In the Lobby’, Bas Batelaan – from The Hague – has an upbeat conversation (in Dutch) with Mendeltje van Keulen. Mendeltje is an EU expert, lecturer (practice professor) EU Impact Hub at The Hague University of Applied Sciences and also holds a PhD from Institute Clingendael. Among other things, they talk about how to increase your influence in Brussels, the usefulness of BNC sheets and looking for double spaces.

The patient’s voice in the healthcare debate in the Netherlands

The last few weeks in the Dutch House of Representatives were dominated by healthcare. Various (new) measures with far-reaching consequences for the industry and the patient were announced. The House also met to debate medical prevention, the Dutch medical and aids policy and package management.

But attention seemed to wane: (trade) media hardly reported on it, the public gallery of the Troelstrazaal remained virtually empty and the drug debate ended an hour and a half earlier than planned. With the announced changes to the Drug Reimbursement System (GVS) and the negotiation scheme for expensive medicines (Sluis), one would expect the House and the field to be at full speed. In practice, members of the House debated specific issues, while other measures with major consequences were left undiscussed. The stakes are high for the industry, so it is crucial for them to be heard in the debate. Yet the patient’s voice (still) seems to determine the political agenda.

Who is being heard…
Members of parliament are leaving their ears to concrete appeals from those who are directly affected by a measure. In the run-up to the debate, several patient associations spoke out against the recent decision by Minister Kuipers (Health) to remove vitamin D from the basic health insurance package. With success: during the drug debate, several parties adopted this line of communication and engaged in a debate between supporters and opponents.

A similar voice from ‘the patient’ was heard in relation to the pilot project for making the HIV inhibitor PrEP available. The appeal for this also came from a vulnerable group in society. Two days prior to the debate on drug policy, a petition from Soa-Aids Nederland and others called for this drug to be made widely available. A large group of people waiting cannot use the drug in the current pilot. Under pressure from the House of Representatives, the government has decided to include as many people as possible from the vulnerable group in the current budget.

… and who is not?
The technically more complicated topics, such as the proposed modernization of the GVS, were mainly addressed in a written question round prior to the debate. This modernization should yield an annual savings of €140 million. And although some organizations indicated that patients will suffer as a result, this topic was discussed less than vitamin D or PrEP.

It does not help that not all the concrete consequences of the GVS modernization have been mapped out yet. Which drugs are involved exactly? And who is “the patient”? As a result, the debate now focuses on the doctor and the industry, which may make it less attractive for the House and the cabinet to engage in debate on these issues. Especially if the (media) attention stays away and the stands remain empty.

Find the patient’s voice
The last word has not yet been said on drug policy and the various policy intentions will continue to be fleshed out in the coming period. The House of Representatives will continue to look for connection with the patient. During the summer recess, parties in the field and industry could take stock of the concrete consequences of the proposed policy and where the effects will be felt the most. Tightening up communication and involving the patient could help to redress the slackening of attention in ‘The Hague’. Either way, the field will have to get creative in how they get their issues back on the Hague agenda.

Public Matters is the public affairs and lobbying consultancy specializing in policy advocacy and strategic communications.

PM Webinar: the roadmap to make the Netherlands a leader in sustainable industry

In early April, the government published its plans to make the industry more sustainable. These include binding agreements with the 10 to 20 largest CO2 emitters in the Netherlands. The cabinet also wants ambitious CO2 targets for the remaining industry. To this end, the government wants to extend the energy saving obligation for companies.

However, this will require adjustments to various preconditions by the government. These include access to infrastructure, affordable and sustainable energy, financing, laws and regulations, support for R&D and the availability of skilled personnel. At the same time, standards are also being tightened, for example, to reduce other emissions – with an eye to the living environment.

We will discuss the sustainability of the industry with VVD MP Erik Haverkort and Martijn Broekhof of VNCI. They will give their vision and will be happy to discuss this with you.

The webinar will take place on Thursday, June 23 from 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm. You can register via secretariaat@publicmatters.nl

Podcast ‘In the Lobby’: a pleasant conversation with the striking Wytze Russchen – former EU top lobbyist.

In an extra long episode of the Public Matters Podcast ‘In the Lobby’ Bas Batelaan – this time from The Hague – has a pleasant conversation (in Dutch) with the remarkable Wytze Russchen. Wytze is a former EU top lobbyist, founder of several Dutch clubs in Brussels (Dutch Network Brussels, Crazy Orange, etc.) and author of ‘Het Oliemannetje – Toplobbyist in Europa’. They talk about the psychology of lobbying, why some Dutch MEPs are b-actors and why everything used to be better.

Public Matters celebrates 20 years of existence in Nieuwspoort

Public Matters celebrated its lustrum at the Nieuwspoort Press Centre in The Hague. For twenty years Public Matters has strived to contribute to the profession of public affairs and a lasting relationship between government and business. A milestone that continues to taste for more.

In honor of our Lustrum, and the profession of public affairs, we have compiled a lustrum book based on interviews with various experts from politics, business and civil society. In the interviews they give their vision on the profession and various trends in the public affairs landscape are discussed. Here are some interviews with Morgan Cauvin (Match Group), Ilse Kaandorp (VGM NL), Maarten Verboom (Stichting Dedicon), Wendy de Wild (Koninklijke NVRD) and Niels Arntz (Temper). Minister Ernst Kuipers of Health, Welfare and Sport officially accepted the book.

Based on this anniversary book, we talked about the trends in the relationship between advocates and policymakers in an interactive panel discussion. In a discussion moderated by Thomas van Zijl (BNR), four panelists shared their views on various trends: Caelesta Braun (Professor of Public Governance & Civil Society, Leiden University), Erik Ziengs (entrepreneur and former Member of Parliament), Moni Wiltenburg (Head of Government Affairs, Dow NL) and Pieter Couwenbergh (journalist, Financieel Dagblad).

The discussion began with the question of whether good lobbying will survive in a politically fragmented landscape, to which the audience largely agreed. The topic of transparency generated a lively discussion about what valuable and effective standards for transparency could or should look like. Finally, we talked about the current status of trust between policymakers and advocates, and how the modus operandi in the public affairs profession is constantly changing.

 

We look back on an interesting and beautiful celebration with all those present, and hope to be of value in The Hague and Brussels in the years to come with the same expertise, creativity and focus on results.

Integrity in public administration

In recent weeks the Dutch media have paid a great deal of attention to the app traffic between Minister Hugo de Jonge (former minister of health) and Sywert van Lienden about the purchase of mouth masks. As a result of the revelations of de Volkskrant, the integrity of administrators was extensively discussed in the Netherlands, from parliament to talk show tables. This fits in with a broader discussion on political integrity and integrity of public administration in the Netherlands, including in the House of Representatives. A committee debate on integrity in public administration was held on 10 March, there was a written consultation on the interests of members of government on 8 April and just before the Easter weekend a two-minute debate was held following the aforementioned committee debate on integrity in public administration.

A good time to take stock.

GRECO

In 2019, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), the corruption watchdog of the Council of Europe, examined the Dutch integrity systems for members of government based on 7 indicators. Conclusion: the Dutch system was assessed as substandard. Of the 8 countries studied, none scored a red tick on all 7 points – except for the Netherlands. Worse than countries like Poland, Malta and North Macedonia.

Based on the findings, GRECO made 8 concrete recommendations to the Netherlands. In an evaluation report published in 2021, the corruption watchdog concluded on the implementation of the recommendations that the Netherlands was still doing far too little to promote integrity and counter corruption among politicians and top officials; “We regret that no tangible progress has been made on any of our recommendations,” GRECO said.

Naturally, this scathing assessment provided fodder for discussion again in the House of Representatives, which led to a cautious first step in late 2021: the cabinet came up with an integrity policy for former ministers. This policy consists of a broadening of the already existing lobbying ban, the introduction of the so-called revolving door ban and a cooling-off period for members of government with mandatory advice from an independent committee. Although an important and much-needed first step, there were still plenty of comments to be made about the (feasibility of the) proposals.

Toothless tiger

There are still questions about this in the Lower House too, as became apparent during the Integrity Committee debate on public administration last month. Despite the appreciation expressed to Hanke Bruins Slot (CDA, Home Affairs) for her prioritization of the integrity theme, the debate was dominated by a number of recognizable points of criticism and concern. The main criticism: the measures in their current form leave too much room for discussion and interpretation, and due to the lack of sanctions they have virtually no clout. It is therefore a nice gesture, but at the same time a toothless tiger.

Take, for example, the lobbying and revolving door ban. According to members of the committee, both measures are still too non-committal and not sufficiently enforceable. This means that compliance is still largely based on the ministers’ own responsibility – and let GRECO identify that as precisely the vulnerable point of the Dutch system. In addition, with both measures, the Secretary General of the relevant ministry has the option to grant the former minister exemption from a ban. Given that the minister and the SG have worked together intensively and often have a good personal relationship, the potential inconvenience of this construction is evident, in the Committee’s view, and this waiver construction is therefore undesirable.

In addition, the mandatory cooling-off period, during which former members of government are obliged to seek advice from an independent committee for a period of two years before accepting a follow-up position, raises questions. Here, too, there is no sanction, which makes the ‘obligation’ nothing more than an urgent recommendation. The Cabinet’s response to concerns about the non-commitment expressed by the House of Representatives: ‘…one possibility is to publish the advice if a former member of government fails to follow the advice of the independent advisory panel. Ideally, however, it should not come to that: after all, the intention is that a former member of government should follow the advice of the independent panel.’

Finally, following GRECO’s advice, work is being done on a code of conduct for ministers. The Chamber calls this “a nice gesture”, but without consequences it is nothing more than an empty shell. During the debate, a large part of the committee therefore asked for the code of conduct to be sanctioned (legally or otherwise). Anyone who reads in the current Handbook for Government Officials that “the use of a private email account for work-related purposes is strongly discouraged” and has spent the past few weeks reading the

New talents join Team Public Matters

Public Matters expands with two new Account Executives: Katja Salzer Levi and Valérie Mendes de León.

About Katja

Katja studied European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. She also completed a minor in Political Science at Grenoble Institute of Political Studies, and did an internship at ABN AMRO Mees Pierson. After her bachelor she obtained a master’s degree in Political Science at the Free University of Amsterdam, and completed the Traineeship at Public Matters. Both Katja and Public Matters were very pleased with her Traineeship and we are therefore pleased to welcome her as an Account Executive. Katja will be focusing on the transport and tech sector in particular.

About Valérie

Valérie received her master’s degree in International Politics from Leiden University. She previously worked for the Province of South Holland as a project manager for digitalization. Valerie already has some experience in the Public Affairs profession through previous internships and at the Young Climate Movement. At Public Matters, Valérie will be advising clients in various sectors, including tech and climate.

We are very happy with our new colleagues and wish them all the best in their new positions!