FINANCIAL PR: City may need to find one voice in Brussels - Firms in the City cannot rely solely on Government to represent their interests in terms of European financial developments. Forming a single lobbying body may be the best option

As the UK takes up the European Union presidency and the single currency hurtles ever closer, City firms are asking themselves how they can achieve a more powerful voice with which to lobby Brussels.

As the UK takes up the European Union presidency and the single

currency hurtles ever closer, City firms are asking themselves how they

can achieve a more powerful voice with which to lobby Brussels.



They are, of course, hardly complete strangers to the European scene.

Some use PR firms in Brussels - Prudential uses Adamson Associates -

while others have their own offices there. NatWest Group is currently

doing a ’feasibility study’ on a possible Brussels office because, as

head of public affairs Amanda Jordan says, ’obviously, Europe has an

increasing relevance to our lives in the UK.’



Trade associations are also plugged in to the EU - the Association of

Unit Trusts and Fund Managers, for example, lobbies the Commission and

MEPs directly, and via its European trade association, the European

Federation of Investment Funds (FESSI). The British Bankers Association

sends ’a regular stream’ of its executives over to Brussels. In

addition, it employs PR firm European Public Policy Advisers to collect

’soft intelligence’ - available only to those who are in Brussels,

picking up ideas that are floated rather than written down.



City firms also have a third tier of information-gathering and

representation in Brussels, via the Treasury, the Bank of England, the

UK Permanent Representative and other official channels.



And then there is the Corporation of London. It has two people

monitoring Brussels developments, and a contract with GPC Market Access

in Brussels.



That expires at the end of March and several firms are being asked to

pitch for it. The contract with GPC Market Access has traditionally

covered lobbying and information gathering on local government issues.

Now the Corporation, which sees its role as representing the interests

of City institutions, wants its Brussels lobbyist to focus on issues

affecting London’s financial sector.



The Corporation and leaders of City financial markets and trade

associations are discussing whether current ’ad hoc’, rather reactive

arrangements for representing their common interests in Europe, are

adequate. Corporation director of PR Tony Halmos says there are some

signs that the City favours a more co-ordinated effort on its behalf.

This would work on issues that affect a large proportion of City firms

such as the preparations for European economic and monetary union and

what is known as the ’ISDN directive’, which threatened the routine City

practice of taping employees’ telephone conversations. Taping is used to

help prevent financial fraud such as insider dealing.



One way to achieve a more co-ordinated City effort would be to establish

a City office in Brussels. This is ’not something we regard as a likely

imminent solution,’ says Halmos, but he agrees that the idea ’has some

merit’. If it were adopted, he adds, there would still be many

questions, such as who would run it, and how.



Two relatively recent developments enhance the attractiveness of such an

office. One is the UK’s self-exclusion from the first group of countries

adopting the single currency, and consequently from some of their

discussions.



This has left many financial institutions feeling slightly

disenfranchised and unable to rely on the Government to represent them

on economic and monetary union, according to APCO Europe joint managing

director Brad Staples.



The second development is the creation of a new City regulator, the

Financial Services Authority. It is taking over from the Securities and

Investments Board and (to some extent) from the Bank of England. If the

FSA is less active then there may be a role for a City office in

Brussels.



Staples is surprised that there is not already a City office in

Brussels, which he says could help co-ordinate the activities of City

firms and other organisations. Alternatively, the same thing could be

achieved by a European spokesman for the City, who could establish its

reputation and relations with European politicians and officials. Most

important of all, says Staples, is a carefully co-ordinated, well

planned strategy.



At Hill and Knowlton International, Belgium, managing director Elaine

Cruickshanks believes there is no single solution for representation in

Europe, ’but it is essential to be on the ground here in one shape or

form’. She recommends that the City discovers where the UK, other

governments and the Commission stand on particular issues and then build

coalitions issue by issue. ’Look for allies,’ she says.



This is a theme echoed by Alastair Defriez, director general of the

Takeover Panel and also a member of the IPR City and financial group

advisory panel.



If City firms are all ’rowing their own particular canoe’ and looking

after their particular interests, then developments of very general

interest (such as the ISDN directive) may get missed. Defriez believes

that a collective City voice, especially if it is proactive, may carry

greater authority than a clamour of individual firms’ messages.



He warns however: ’A collective City voice must be seen as

representative of the cosmopolitan, international financial services

market that the City is, and not as a purely parochial, ’little

Englander’ body’. Creating the perception of a City-wide body would be

important, he adds, because the Commission and Parliament respond best

to views held in several countries.



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