The EU: politically correct or a case of “I don’t believe it”?

June 7, 2010

In my dealings over the last nine months with the European Union I have both learnt a lot and experienced many frustrations.  I have for the most part been impressed by the calibre of the people with whom I have been dealing – in the Commission, in Parliament and elsewhere in the complex interwoven fabric of life and interests that Brussels represents.  I have even speculated whether – if I had my time again – I might have enjoyed being part of Brussels.  That last question is not a little poignant, given that early on in my career I worked for a little over two years in Brussels, but in a corporate community far removed from all that was happening in those pioneering EU days.

The debate over regulation of derivatives continues to rumble on and there may even now be multiple elephants in the room.  More of that in a subsequent blog, not the least as I am writing this on the train to Brussels in advance of a day of meetings on the implementation of SEPA and on the EACT project to influence the regulatory outcome on derivatives.

For now, just a distraction along the lines of (for those familiar with a certain British comic masterpiece) “I don’t believe it”.  First, the institutional background.  The European Commission is the EU’s civil service.  Bright, multi-lingual staffers are engaged there with the real detail of translating the political vision and emotion into practical frameworks, rules etc etc.  Within the EC ‘DG Markt’ deals with the overall single market agenda, so central to achieving many of the real benefits of European integration.

The policy for financial services is of course developed by DG Markt, and this is a particular area of expertise for the Deputy Director General, David Wright.  David – whom I have met a couple of times – is very attuned to the broad EU issues around financial services policy and so far as I know has never been seen as in any way partisan in his approach to policy-development.  As a result of earlier horse-trading at the highest level another Briton is now coming in as the overall chief of DG Markt; and for reasons of EC policy (I understand) the quid pro quo of the more senior appointment going through is that David Wright steps aside and a successor is recruited.

Here lies the rub. It is bad enough for the wider stakeholders in the success of the EC’s work to have this change forced through, with the consequential loss of substantial expertise and ‘safe hands’ in such a vital area.  But whence should the successor come?  The answer emerged in a recruitment advertisement in the Financial Times last week.  Only nationals of Latvia, Lithuania and Malta are eligible for appointment.

I don’t believe it.

Now for the disclaimers.  I’m a huge and genuine fan of the wider EU community.  I believe that by embracing many former eastern bloc countries a true engine of growth and expertise too has been added.  We see this in the EACT through the contribution that our members make from countries such as Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.  I find a refreshing openness, professionalism and enthusiasm – as well as a rampant desire to learn and share from the experience of ‘old’ Europe.  I have made a personal commitment to support that approach.

But what the development of the EU’s financial services policy surely needs is exactly what parts of old Europe have in abundance – market experience and institutional maturity.  Is the EC not hobbling its ability to navigate us through some continually treacherous waters by applying its own version of political correctness to the appointment of the most senior and vital roles?

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