We interviewed Daniel Brinkwerth, a Partner in Brussels, on policy trends and Flint’s work in continental Europe. Daniel has over 15 years of experience in business critical EU regulation, advocacy and political risk management in Brussels and national capitals. He advises clients from the private and government sector on complex legislative dossiers and political issues. He also oversees market intelligence and business transformation projects.
You joined Flint’s Brussels office in early 2020. How would you describe Flint’s offer in Europe?
From the start, Flint has had an international and pan-European outlook. This has to do with the professional careers of our founders and partners, and it is baked into our DNA. Our clients operate across borders, and we are doing the same, seamlessly. Naturally, a large chunk of our work in the Brussels office is focussed on EU affairs. But Union law and policy is not made in a vacuum either. We live the Brussels bubble, but it is an essential part of our offer to leverage all of the political and regulatory insights available in our network, be that in Brussels, London, The Hague, or our specialist partners and senior advisors across the continent. That is our approach when we help resolve business issues: analysing regulatory risks and opportunities for investors, contributing to the formulation of policy or legislation, or managing the political sides of merger or antitrust cases. So, I guess in essence, the offer is a combination of technical expertise, deep-rooted political insights from across Europe, plus the proverbial British professional service culture. An effective mix, and stimulating to work in.
How did Covid affect regulatory and advocacy work around the EU institutions?
Brussels is a town, and a lot happens through informal conversations. At first, this was more difficult because everyone’s calendars were filled up with calls all day long, so there was less opportunity to check in informally. But this improved markedly, as everyone adjusted. And there have also been upsides. For example, virtual meetings have made it a lot easier to involve leading experts at all stages of the conversation, no matter where they are based in the world. Overall, the EU system functions remarkably well, especially if you consider logistical difficulties like the need for interpretation. We have seen only minor delays around legislative proposals, and most competition procedures are being completed at speed.
Speaking of EU legislation, what is keeping Brussels busy?
At the heart of the EU agenda is the so-called twin transition, that is the transformation towards a carbon-neutral and digital society. This is a major industrial policy effort across three pillars. The first is regulatory leadership, to create markets and set international standards. The second is public funding and other support, like sandboxing, to get transformational projects off the ground. The third is a much closer look at Europe’s global competitive position and trade posture, which has triggered some debate on whether the new EU agenda is protectionist or merely realist. If you look at the sheer volume of legislation and funding that is being mobilised across these areas, there is hardly any company that does not face new risks or opportunities. But that is not all. Obviously Covid pushed public health to the top of the agenda, and it is likely to stay there for several years, with a broad legislative pipeline that is a bit of a mixed bag for the sector. Finally, there are other well-known areas, such as finance for example, both with classical financial services topics but also initiatives around sustainable finance or fin tech. The EU institutions have their work cut out for this political term and it will not be boring, at least if you are a policy junkie like we are.
What milestones are you looking forward to in the next few months?
First, the Commission is finalising a dozen or so landmark proposals on energy and climate change that will be published in mid-July. This will launch two years of negotiations on the EU climate neutrality agenda, followed by additional initiatives on circularity, the zero pollution ambition, and biodiversity.
Second, the accelerated roll-out of vaccinations and a transition towards a hybrid work environment. Belgium really caught up and is a front runner in Europe now. Everybody worked very hard over the last year and it will be good to catch up in person with the team, our clients, and policymakers. The authorities are still erring on the side of caution, but I expect a new normal by the end of summer.
Finally, as a German who is married to a French lady, my eyes will be on who gets to succeed Chancellor Merkel in September, and then how the Presidential elections will play out next year, in the middle of the French EU Presidency and a busy legislative calendar. A reasonable alignment between Berlin and Paris remains fundamental for anything to move at EU level. As a German voter, your choice is between different interpretations of the same, pro-European theme. In France, stakes will be higher.