10.04.2019 | An insight into Axpo’s European lobbying work

Jumping in at the deep end in the EU capital

What does Axpo actually do in Brussels? Why does our company employ a Head of EU Energy Policy? Politically-minded intern Elise Beauverd was keen to find out. Here, she reports on her three-day visit to the Belgian capital, where she met up with Eberhard Röhm-Malcotti.

Axpo’s office is located at Rond-Point Robert Schuman 6, directly opposite the European Commission headquarters. It’s a small, grey building. Eberhard, Axpo’s man in Brussels, welcomes me warmly and offers me a cup of coffee. He gives a presentation on EU lobbying as an introduction to what to expect in the coming days. I’m bombarded with acronyms and abbreviations – my notes are full of question marks. But after a good hour, I have a rough overview of the world I'm about to enter.
In Brussels, everything comes in ‘threes’. The EU has three main institutions: the Council, the Parliament and the Commission. Energy policy is based on three pillars: sustainability, security of supply and competitiveness. Axpo can lobby at three levels to defend its interests: firstly, and informally, through good advance PR; secondly, by lobbying in the context of legislative procedures; and thirdly, by approaching the regulatory authorities.

«What’s Axpo?»

I experience for the first time how Axpo actually plays its part in Brussels at the Egmont Palace, where the EU Energy Summit is taking place. My badge reads ‘Elise Beauverd, Axpo’ and Eberhard introduces me as ‘my colleague from Baden’ – so, there’s no hiding behind the fact that I’m ‘just an intern’. At lunch, a woman from Energy Charter approaches me directly and stares at my badge. ‘What’s Axpo?’ Having spent almost half a year with the Swiss energy company, which operates internationally in 28 countries and 39 markets, I answer confidently and acquit myself well. But I falter when I’m asked about whether we would experience difficulties with regard to investments in Spain. I save myself from the situation by kindly referring her to Eberhard, who’s standing not far from me. This is also the first and most important lesson I learn for dealing with people in Brussels: always ask questions so you don’t have to answer any!
The breaks between the discussion rounds are clearly the core of the event. Participants shake hands, exchange business cards and share views on current energy and EU issues. Brexit and the upcoming European Parliament elections provide plenty for people to talk about. In the various discussion rounds, specific topics from the recently adopted Clean Energy Package (CEP) are examined in greater depth. Cutting CO2 emissions in energy production, the EU’s security of energy supply in the international environment, the digitalisation of the European energy system and sector integration are examples of the topics on everyone’s lips.

The speech by Marie-Christine Marghem, Belgium’s Federal Minister of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development, at the beginning of the afternoon programme attracts a great deal of interest. She talks about cyber security in relation to the digitalisation of the energy sector and, fully reflecting the spirit of the EU, stresses that cooperation between states, as well as between private-sector players, must be the driving force to defend against cyberattacks.

The EU Energy Summit lasts almost nine hours – so anyone wanting to lobby in Brussels has to have stamina. The short walk to the next event allows me at least to gain a few impressions of the city and, above all, to clear my head before I’m thrown in at the deep end once more. I’m to meet Eberhard at the Verbund reception. Verbund is Axpo’s Austrian counterpart. Eberhard isn’t here yet, but I don’t have to wait on my own for long, because I’m approached by an ENI employee. As I learned in the morning, I ask one question after another, so it doesn’t become apparent that, right now, I haven’t the slightest idea what ENI, the Italian mineral oil and energy company, is.

The next day, I accompany Martin Everts (Axpo’s Head of Strategy & Transformation) to the Eurelectric offices, which is where the meeting of the Hydro Working Group is being held. Eurelectric, the umbrella organisation of the European electricity industry, plays a fundamental role in representing the interests of both Swiss and EU companies. Unlike the day before, this meeting addresses very specific issues within the individual countries. To me, this reflects the whole challenge of the EU: for 28 countries with different issues and interests, establishing common ground is both time-consuming and complex.

Behind closed doors

We all know that the best is saved for last. And in my case, it’s a visit to the European Parliament for a meeting with MEP Jørn Dohrmann (a Danish politician and member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group). He is Chair of the ‘Delegation for relations with Switzerland and Norway and to the EU-Iceland Joint Parliamentary Committee and the European Economic Area (EEA) Joint Parliamentary Committee’. We’re met by Louis, Mr Dohrmann’s assistant. We walk through the corridors of the Parliament and wait. And wait… And I learn my second lesson about the EU in Brussels: politicians like to take their time.

Mr Dohrmann finally appears, invites us into his office and closes the door with a conspiratorial smile. But this promising start to a political thriller fades with the rather mundane conversation. As was the case yesterday, discussion revolves around the CEP and the pending framework agreement with Switzerland – but we don’t receive any unexpected or new information that’s relevant to Axpo. We did manage to take a pretty picture, though!

As I said before, in Brussels, everything comes in ‘threes’, and that also goes for my lessons learned, the third of which is that lobbying can sometimes be quite exhausting!

Axpo, Switzerland and the EU

Axpo is active in almost all EU member states and EEA states, so it’s exposed to the EU’s energy and climate policies. If Axpo wants to continue to have a presence in the EU’s internal energy market, it is essential to know what direction the EU is heading in with regard to its energy policy, so we can have a say as early as possible. And this is exactly what Axpo’s lobbying in Brussels ensures.

Unlike Switzerland, the EU already has a publicly accessible register for lobbyists – the EU Transparency Register. Axpo has been listed in the register since 2011.

European Parliament elections are scheduled to take place at the end of May 2019. It is expected that more populists and Greens will be voted in. This will also shape future energy policy. Brexit will influence future negotiations between Switzerland and the EU, too. The electricity agreement concluded with the EU, which is related to the framework agreement and will regulate Axpo’s access to the EU’s internal energy market in future, will also be important.

It is vital that Axpo and the Swiss electricity industry remain visible and audible within the EU to ensure their future involvement in shaping EU energy and climate policy.

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