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European Think-Tanks Series - Part Three

THRIVING IN BRUSSELS: THE CENTRE FOR EUROPEAN POLICY STUDIES (CEPS)


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The third article of this series features the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS)- a classic example of think-tanks funded by large corporations, which play an influential agenda-setting role by promoting various aspects of European unification to policy- makers, the media and the public. As with other EU-focused corporate think-tanks, its influence and authority is to a large degree evident from the ample coverage it receives in the European media.

 

ounded in 1982, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) has a network of chapters in a number of European countries, 40 employees working from its Brussels headquarters, and an annual turnover of approximately 4 million euro.[1]

The bulk of its funding comes from its membership fees- particularly from corporate members. Annual fees start at 24,000 euro for ordinary membership, and are as high as 60,000 euro for exclusive "Inner Circle" members.[2] Such disbursements do not come without reward, and CEPS claims to give its members "an opportunity to prepare their own positions and influence policy choices."[3] Although CEPS prides itself on having an independent position, it is clearly biased towards industry interests. Board members, a majority of whom are corporate representatives, include ERT (European Roundtable of Industrialists) members Etienne Davignon [4] and Repsol's Alfonso Cortina, as well as Erik Belfrage, CEO of Investor AB.

Membership in CEPS is also available to non-corporate members, such as law firms, consultancies, trade unions, embassies or academics, but it grants them meagre services (reduction in participation fees at CEPS conferences, publications and access to its library) in comparison with those offered to corporations. Corporate members enjoy a special programme that "concentrates on the interface between EU policies and business strategies," [5] under which CEPS organises regular activities around six areas of relevance to industry: financial markets; energy and environment; network industries and infrastructures; agriculture; regulation and competitiveness; and trade and investment.

A sample of this are the activities around climate change planned by CEPS for 1999 and 2000. Launched with a meeting on July 16th with key speakers from the Climate Change Unit of the European Commission, activities are planned around a number of workshops and meetings on issues such as the role of business initiatives; the facilitation of the market-based "solutions" Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI); the role of nuclear energy in climate change; the negotiating position of the EU for COP-6 and EU-business consultations. "To ensure coherence, the meetings will be chaired by Barbara Koryks, Head of Environment, BP Amoco." [6] This highly business-oriented perception of climate policies will be reflected in various reports containing policy recommendations to EU decision-makers.

Connections are key, as Director Peter Ludlow explains: "CEPS is seen as an insiders' institute and this is crucial. We set out to establish that we are here to talk at the highest level." [7] This allows CEPS to offer its corporate members "direct access to EU decision-makers and opportunities to participate in the policy- making process." [8] On top of this, corporate clients can benefit from the working parties established by CEPS to examine particular policy issues, which are claimed to be "unique", as "they bring together business leaders, the EU Commission and the Parliament, governments, international organisations and academic experts." [9] The group proudly boasts that its "policy papers and working parties on EMU [European Monetary Union], CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] reform, fiscal policy, institutional reform and enlargement have contributed ideas that have been adopted by the policy makers in the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament and in the governments of the member states." [10]

Other services include the "European Business Strategy Group" to help "thinking creatively" on major issues; hard-hitting reports on various timely EU topics; seminars on issues such as "The emerging EU Tax Policy" or "Public Awareness of Biotechnology in the EU"; roundtables and luncheon meetings and access to CEPS research staff. The exclusive "Inner Circle" membership fees entitle one to, among other services, "tailor-made board room briefings twice a year on topics of their choice." [11]

Another source of money and influence are the numerous contracts awarded to CEPS by public bodies such as the European Commission and the Parliament. Between 1996 and 1999, CEPS carried out 21 projects for the controversial Commission aid- programme for Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries - Phare and Tacis. Indeed, the ongoing process of enlargement of the EU towards the East, is one area where CEPS has shown itself to be particularly active. Not only has enlargement, together with the EMU, been the issue chosen in 1999 by the International Advisory Council (IAC) of CEPS, [12] but a "Business Policy Forum" composed of representatives of the Commission, EU and candidate governments, development banks and more than 25 companies, has been established to make policy recommendations in various sectors such as transport infrastructure, energy reform, trade and investment and agricultural policy.

CEPS has also proven itself to be very opportunistic through its promotion of business opportunities in the reconstruction of the Balkans after the war. The group can be satisfied that its paper containing ideas for the restructuring of the region, focused on customs unions and steps for integrating in the EU, has been adopted and actively promoted by the Hungarian billionaire and financial speculator George Soros. [13] Recently, CEPS has been granted US$ 100,000 by the German Marshall Fund, to strengthen the transatlantic dimension of among other things, its programme on "Post War Reconstruction in South East Europe."

It can be said that CEPS is successfully working for the implementation of its corporate members' wish lists, while cultivating an image of objectivity and independence. More public awareness is needed about the biased roles played by CEPS and other corporate think-tanks in the European Union.

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NOTES


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1. Rory Watson, "Crossing the Business and Political Divide", European Voice, 9 July 1998.

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2. CEPS, "CEPS Corporate and Inner Circle Members", CEPS web site. http://www.ceps.be/

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3. CEPS, "What is CEPS?", CEPS web site.

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4. Etienne Davignon, Chairman of Société Générale de Belgique and President of AMUE (Association for the Monetary Union of Europe), is also a former Industry commissioner.

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5. CEPS, "CEPS Corporate and Inner Circle Members", CEPS web site.

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6. CEPS, "Climate Change Activities 1999-2000", CEPS web site.

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7. Quote taken from: Rory Watson, "Crossing the Business and Political Divide", European Voice, 9 July 1998.

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8. CEPS, "CEPS Corporate and Inner Circle Members", CEPS web site.

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9. Ibid.

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10. CEPS, "What is CEPS?", CEPS web site.

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11. CEPS, "CEPS Corporate and Inner Circle Members", CEPS web site.

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12. The International Advisory Council is the "core of CEPS' network of eminent individuals drawn from government, business, the diplomatic community, academics and the media". It meets once a year in Brussels and "is an invaluable source of information and advice to decision-makers and authorities in the EU institutions". It concentrates on strategic ideas for the EU and produces and annual publication "integral to the policy-formation process of the EU".

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13. George Soros, "Breaking down the borders", Financial Times Limited, 6 July 1999.

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