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Cleaning up Plux — AI lobbying fail — Prize for a spirited lobbyist – POLITICO

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By SARAH WHEATON

Tips, tales, traumas to @swheaton or [email protected] | View in your browser

HOWDY. We hope you’re taking advantage of this singular week where pretty much everyone’s in town, back from winter vacation before dispersing to Strasbourg, Davos, etc. One of the weird things about the Brussels bubble is that the bubble is so rarely in Brussels.

ON THE RECORD

“I have a mixed feeling [about Qatargate]. Of course, it’s a pity for all the European institutions. But as commissioner for justice, it’s the real proof that we have an independent justice system in Belgium, and it’s possible to organize the process.”

— Didier Reynders, European Justice Commissioner and Belgian politician, on Tuesday, in response to a question from EU Influence. He cut us off as we tried to ask about his confidence in the Belgian justice system to handle the case. (Admittedly, he was probably trying to enjoy himself at Renew Europe’s new year reception, where we accosted him with our mobile phone recorder.)

QATARGATE CLEANUP

BLOCKING THE EX-MEP REVOLVING DOOR: At the heart of President Roberta Metsola’s 14-point plan for preventing the next Qatargate are measures that would make it harder for former MEPs to lobby the directly-elected institution. 

Cooling-off period: Ex-MEPs would have to wait up to two years before they’re allowed to start pitching colleagues on behalf of clients, sources briefed on the matter tell my colleague Eddy Wax. That would put the Parliament more in line with the Commission, which has a two-year cooling-off period for ex-commissioners.

Blocking access: Ex-MEPs would no longer have permanent, unmonitored access to the Parliament premises. They’ll be eligible for a daily access badge, with a special desk devoted to processing their requests. There would be an accounting of their entries and meetings.

Also in the plan: Mandatory meeting disclosure for MEPs as well as assistants and random checks of groups in the register to ensure compliance. Read more from Eddy

3rd-country rules unclear: While we heard on Wednesday that the plan would include mandatory registration for third-countries in the Transparency Register, a document on the 14-point plan circulated among MEPs and viewed by POLITICO doesn’t clearly state this development.

It says that “a listing in the Transparency Register” would be required for entry into the Parliament for “all lobbyists, NGOs and Interest representatives.”

Another point says that “all persons” entering the Parliament “including representatives of third countries,” would have to detail the time, date and purpose of their visit in a new entry log.

Early reaction: Metsola unveiled the plan to the Conference of President’s today, but it was  already making the rounds. Transparency International EU chief Michiel van Hulten called it a “big step in the right direction” that would make the type of third-country interference alleged in Qatargate harder. TI also praised the stepped-up emphasis on enforcement.

What’s not there: A big thing that seems to have been stripped from a version of the plan EU Influence saw in December: whistleblower protections for assistants. Also missing: a commitment to create a special Parliament Committee on ethics reform.

What MEPs are saying:

— Greens: MEP Daniel Freund said the plan “still falls short. Disclosure of MEPs’ assets at the beginning and end of the legislature is perhaps the strongest incentive against accepting bribes.”

— Renew: La Stampa registered some anonymous complaints from liberal MEPs that the measures are “too binding.” That doesn’t square with what EU Influence is hearing from the group — at least when it comes to what their ultimate public position will be. 

— The Left: MEP Nikolaj Villumsen said the plan was likely to be too little, too late. “We must recognise that in some aspects, we lag behind countries like the UK and the US,” he wrote, referring specifically to American requirements to register foreign lobbying activities. 

European Conservatives and Reformists: Points for candor from MEP Assita Kanko. “We support Metsola fully,” she told Eddy, who caught her as she left the Conference of Presidents meeting. But, she added, balance is needed to avoid excessive bureaucracy — and scare off competent lawmakers. I’m worried that it will become so boring and so bad to become a member [of the European Parliament] that people who become a member cannot do anything else.”

READING BETWEEN THE LINES ON THE ETHICS BODY: When it comes to the long-stalled proposal for an independent EU ethics committee, look for inter-institutional sniping to get much more public. 

New resolve? In the immediate wake of the scandal, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for an ethics body with “not only strong rules but the same rules covering all the EU institutions and not to allow for any exemptions.” We interpreted this as a policy shift in favor of a more serious ethics cop — given that last we’d heard, the plan was to propose more of an advisory body

Not so fast: Turns out von der Leyen’s comments were probably more of a veiled snipe at the Parliament. True, MEPs passed a resolution calling for an ethics body in 2021. But the sentiment in the Berlaymont is that in reality, the Parliament only wants a way to knock down commissioner appointments (Sylvie Goulard, for example), while behind the scenes rejecting initiatives for outside accountability for the Parliament. Meanwhile, supporters of the ethics body in both institutions still have no clue how to get the third leg of the stool on board: the European Council, which points to national authorities to enforce ethics rules. 

Bottom line: The independent ethics body is pretty much exactly in the stalled, toothless place we left it pre-scandal.

QATAR’S COMMITTEE CAPTURE: The reasoning behind several of the overhaul proposals should be clear from Eddy’s scrupulous account of how ex-MEP Pier Antonio Panzeri continued to exert considerable influence on the human rights panel he once chaired, and how current chair Maria Arena’s failure to fill out disclosure forms hid perks from Qatar like free travel. 

Portrait of a lobbying coup: Now’s a good time to remind you that the Qatari government denies any wrongdoing or inappropriate engagement. And, indeed, Doha’s legal lobbying is nothing to be sniffed at. When Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates imposed a diplomatic and trade embargo on Qatar in 2017, the tiny Gulf state needed friends in Brussels — fast. I look at how Abdulrahman Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, Qatar’s then-envoy to the EU, built a charm offensive practically from scratch

**Subscribe to POLITICO’s Confidential Podcast today. Each 30-minute episode features POLITICO’s analysis of the top stories driving the day in Davos, as well as notable guests shaping European policy and deep-dive stories from around the Continent.**

POWER POINTS

When we looked into Twitter alternatives in November, there were high hopes for Mastodon — or something else. But a new survey of media leaders (primarily European ones, we’d note) shows that if you want to get your message in front of journalists, there’s an obvious winner. 

infographic

AI(NFLUENCE)

CAN A ROBOT DO YOUR JOB? We’re getting there. That’s the contention of a new pre-print paper that tested how ChatGPT would handle a little lobbying assignment. The author, John J. Nay, the founder of AI research and investment groups, argues that it’s a “proof of concept.” 

Early verdict: EU Influence is not impressed. On the contrary, the AI lobbyist completely messed up the file!

The test: Nay wanted to see if the AI could determine whether proposed legislation was relevant to a given company, and write a position paper to a lawmaker. 

So he plugged in a pharma company, Alkermes Plc, and described it to the system as a producer of medicines for schizophrenia and addiction, and set the bot to work on a piece of legislation that would allow Medicare (the U.S. public health insurance for seniors) to negotiate on prices. 

The result: The AI lobbyist decided that the proposal was relevant — and that Alkermes should be “particularly supportive” of the negotiations. “We believe that this will help to ensure that the prices of these drugs are fair and reasonable.”

Wrong wrong wrong: No pharma lobbyist wants “fair and reasonable” drug prices! Their talking points are going to be about innovation and R&D investment! Maybe some subtle threats that patients won’t have access because the medicines won’t exist, or won’t be sold in the market in question. The pharma lobby has been pushing back against Medicare negotiations for decades — its recent inclusion in the Inflation Reduction Act was cataclysmic defeat. (The real-life Alkermes was among the companies citing the legislation as a reason to cut back or reshape their drug research.) 

This judgment error seems to have escaped the notice of the study author, a reminder that humans are just as error-prone as machines, if not more so.

Bring it on: Even if ChatGPT actually proved competent, it could be a boon to (at least parts of) the sector. 

“Imagine: Companies fire all their mediocre lobbyists” and replace them with AI, wrote Andreas Geiger of Alber & Geiger, in an email to EU Influence. “How much money they suddenly have to spend on me!”

ENABLING OUR ROBOT OVERLORDS: Tim Werkhoven, CEO of a consultancy building AI lobbying tools called Lobium, is documenting (on LinkedIn, natch) his efforts to improve the machine-readability of amendments for an “EUParliament Amendment Analyser.” (Most scrapers don’t do well with the PDFs or Word documents they’re currently published as). He said Parliament will get back to him on his request to post the amendments in .xml format. 

HIRING HUMANS TO TAME THE ALGORITHMS: Will there be complaints about this revolving door? The Commission needs to fill 70 spots for data scientists, lawyers and AI specialists to help enforce the EU’s new online content rules — and the castoffs from the spate of Big Tech layoffs are a key recruitment pool, Clothilde Goujard and Mark Scott report

media

PARTY HOPPING

FRENCH PERM REP — HIGH SPIRITS: The French government honored Jean Rodesch, a Belgian former spirits lobbyist, at a ceremony at the French permanent representation to the EU on Monday, Eddy Wax reports. Around 30 people gathered to see Rodesch, now a special adviser to the EU’s intellectual property agency, receive the Chevalier du mérite agricole, a special award for services to France’s hallowed food and agriculture industry.

Bubbly atmosphere: Rodesch was formerly a top dog French spirits behemoth Pernod Ricard. France’s top agriculture diplomat in Brussels, Sylvain Maestracci, pinned the medal onto Rodesch’s chest, after a speech that commended his typically Belgian, self-deprecating sense of humor. Rodesch was nominated for the award by Michel Barnier, for his work on Irish whiskey and geographical indications during the Brexit negotiations that Barnier led for the EU.

RENEW EUROPE — NOT-SO-OPEN STRATEGIC AUTONOMY: As we reported for Playbook, Europe’s liberals couldn’t get enough of strategic autonomy at their new year’s gathering on Tuesday. “In order to achieve the open strategic autonomy, we should make sure that we strengthen the rule of law, the fundamental rights, the single markets, the access to education and skills for everyone — and of course, research, innovation, development — what has fueled Europe for decades after decades,” said Commission EVP and Competition chief Margrethe Vestager told her fellow Renew Europe group members. 

Thing is, EU Influence almost wasn’t there to hear it. Rumor circulated through the press corps Tuesday that Renew was having a party that night so we (true to form) shamelessly asked for an invitation. Turns out the party wasn’t really meant for the press. Still, we were graciously included, and at first felt like an interloper — until we spotted some corporate lobbyists we know mixing it up with the MEPs and their assistants! Seems if you’re gonna welcome Das Auto and Big Tobacco, you might as well proactively invite POLITICO — especially in these times. 

INFLUENCERS

HUME BROPHY JOINS PENTA BEHEMOTH: Hume Brophy has been acquired by Penta, the new conglomerate founded in September after Washington’s Hamilton Place Strategies merged with several other players. Hume Brophy, founded in Ireland in 2005 and with a substantial Brussels presence, will now be called Penta Hume Brophy. “We will now also be bringing world class research, analytics and sentiment analysis capability to the EU public affairs space,” Brussels-based managing director Jill Craig told EU Influence. 

CONSULTING & COMMS

— Augusta Ramaccioni, formerly of POLITICO, is now a senior strategist with Dods Group.

— Umberto Gambini has been promoted to partner at the economic intelligence group Avisa Partners.

FINANCIAL SERVICES

— Robrecht Vandormael, a FinTech expert at FTI Consulting, has been promoted to senior managing director. 

HEALTH CARE

— Evi Palaiologou has escaped the European Cancer Patients Coalition to join GCI Health as an account manager. 

LABOR

— Samuel Engblom, a former state secretary in the Swedish ministry of education and research, has been appointed associate researcher at the European Trade Union Institute in Brussels. 

MEDIA

— Miruna Herovanu and Erard Gilles have been promoted to the post of director at the Association of Commercial Television and Video on Demand Services in Europe (ACT).

COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

— Edgar Szewczyk is now a policy adviser for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the Committee of the Regions. He was previously with Business & Science Poland in Brussels. 

TECH

— Simona Lipstaite will take over as head of Europe policy at the tech consultancy Access Partnership as Kaisu Karvala steps down. 

— Antonio Amendola’s post-AT&T job is now public: senior director for technology, media and telecommunications at FTI.

— Claudia Canelles joins the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA Europe) as a senior policy manager working on intermediary liability. She comes from the consultancy EU Strategy.

— Also at CCIA EuropeMathilde Adjutor has been promoted to senior policy manager.

— Simone Alessandri has been promoted to managing director at eu.bac – European Building Automation and Controls Association. 

THINK TANKS

— Tara Varma is now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington focused on French and European foreign policy, via the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

MEA CULPA: Last week’s issue of EU Influence incorrectly characterized the previous employer of Saudi Arabia’s next EU ambassador, Haifa Al Jedea. SRMG Think is a research and strategic advisory consultancy within the Saudi Research and Media Group.

THANKS TO: Eddy Wax, Pieter Haeck, Carlo Martuscelli, Samuel Stolton, Elena Giordano and Laurens Cerulus; visual producer Giovanna Coi, web producer Erika Di Benedetto and my editor Nicholas Vinocur

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