Voices Monday, April 20, 2015 - 05:30
Next time Europe bans a product from India – mangoes, for example – think how it could have been stopped.  Trade disruptions are rarely sudden. You can pick up the rumblings if you have your ear to the ground. Every change of guard in Delhi brings with it the China comparison. We’ve just about survived the Chindia onslaught from experts and we are back to talking about over-taking China’s GDP and bullet trains. Such comparisons might not be necessary as they frame the fight falsely, if it is a fight at all. What we need now is to understand how lobbies acquire status and market access in one of the world’s most difficult bureaucracies – Brussels. Taking Make in India to Europe as Prime Minister Narendra Modi just did in France and Germany is as necessary as is the follow-up where India generally falters. Why lobby in Brussels? There are approximately 20,000 industrial lobbyists in the Belgian city who, on a daily basis, speak to the European Commission (EC), the European Council (EC) and the Members of European Parliament (MEPs). The MEPs spend two weeks per month in Brussels and the rest in their constituencies. Most Fortune 500 companies are registered in the city with some 400 of them having an established office. They have staff ranging from one to 20, depending on the EU legislation or regulation that affects their business directly. Multinational corporations have an EU Affairs, Public Affairs and Government Affairs presence in Brussels for numerous reasons, but here are four critical ones why Indian companies should be present more forcefully in this city of Eurocrats. To begin with, India needs to communicate to a wide range of EU decision-makers as they discuss policy issues with a view to be seen as an important player keen to shape policy. Initial communication has to be followed up with mapping policy discussions so that any upcoming legislation that may potentially damage their business is flagged early to the company and relevant politicians in India Further, after the political caravan has passed, lobbies need to occupy the space to position India and Indian companies as global leaders with the requisite intellectual and financial stamina to go out into the high seas. Finally, and most importantly, there is a need to shape the right messaging, which is to promote a company or policy as a driver of competitiveness in Europe and a creator of jobs in a continent where unemployment is high.  Many Indian companies are directly affected by a number of important topics being discussed in Brussels. They range from energy efficiency to data protection and agriculture subsidies to manufacturing. There are a range of people including the MEPs in relevant parliamentary committees and working groups who are important policymakers India must engage with. Indian companies should be positioning themselves as major partners in areas like innovation, eco-sustainability services and big data. The India story in Europe is a delicate one to tell. On the one hand they are viewed with suspicion because they take jobs away with their outsourcing operations. On the other,Indian companies creating jobs in Europe is an attractive proposition. This political aspect has not been exploited sufficiently.  What have Indian companies done so far? Not much, seriously speaking, to get into Europe’s policy and decision making circles. Attending the European Business Summit (EBS), appearing on a panel or moderating another without any sustained follow up is where India’s gaps are most evident. This has to change if we are to be taken seriously. In addition to speaking to Eurocrats, Indian needs to be present in think tanks (not limited to defence and strategic thinkers), civil society and media, allof whom are carriers of information in the run up to policy shaping. Indians rarely brief the European media. To cut costs, many Indian companies use their Belgian offices to work with EU institutions. This does not work – this is like speaking to a Union minister in Delhi about water and electricity problems in the municipality of Delhi. Huawei, Microsoft and Facebook If a best practices book on how to crack Brussels were to be written, three companies would figure. Microsoft established an office in Brussels in the mid-1990’s and has an EU dedicated website. It has over 20 employees and is a member of numerous trade associations including www.digitaleurope.org On policy issues, the company is deeply involved in Innovation (ICT) - Solving societal challenges (health, environment, education); cloud computing - jobs growth; Digital agenda; E-health; Interoperability; Cybersecurity; Energy Efficiency; SME growth; Data protection/privacy + Big data; IP - patent validity vs patent infringement and Consumerisation of IT - overlap of business & private life. Huawei, a Chinese company, opened its shop in Brussels in 2011 and employs 10 people. It has an EU-dedicated website and sits on all trade associations and groups. It is present on all discussions relating to broadband, cyber security, cloud computing (interoperability/standardisation),Digital Agenda; Smart Grids & Smart tech; Data privacy/protection;Research& innovation; European Employment; EU-China Trade (anti-dumping); Cities of the future; Energy Efficiency / Sustainable Development. They do not miss a heart-beat in Brussels. Facebook arrived in Brussels in 2012. Policy issues it is deeply involved in are economic impact of Facebook (social media), OECD Internet Economy Outlook 2012 (Taylor Reynolds report), the social economy: unlocking value through social technologies (McKinsey report), the rise of the data-driven economy, the app economy and related job growth, Internet trends - move to mobile, relationship between job growth and tech innovation, European Digital Single Market (growth and competitiveness issues) andICT for jobs and growth. Companies are consulted by EU policymakers only if they are heard and seen in Brussels regularly. Unlike Davos where people go to be seen, Brussels is a very nuts and bolts place. That penny is yet to drop in India,which wants to do business with Europe without digging in for the long haul. There are some things we can learn from the Chinese – among them patriotism and ‘China first’ is one. The hand of the Chinese government is invincible. What people see is the country growing and spreading its influence and power around the world, whether it is buying out raw materials in Africa or controlling the commodity markets in Geneva.  A few years ago Beijing offered itself a port in Greece, thus ensuring a private water-way for its goods to and from Europe.  The Chinese working in Europe speak local languages. In Rome, one finds Chinese stalls and shops all around the monuments selling Italian trinkets. As they say, when in Rome...  
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