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
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
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
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
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
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.