Good karma in Kyiv — Geopolitics of solidarity — Saudi’s slick party – POLITICO
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By SARAH WHEATON
HOWDY. Welcome to EU Influence. We’re reflecting on a little debate between the two lobbyist hosts of the new (and charming) podcast, Pluxcast. It’s a bit insensitive, Connor Allen and Patrick Keating agreed, to call their profession a “game.” EU legislation affects the daily lives of real people. But Allen questioned that other common metaphor of “battlefield.” After all, veryone in Brussels is ultimately trying to collaborate on the European project, no?
We’d argue “battlefield” is apt, even within the refined confines of the European Quarter. Fights for survival apply to industries (ahem, Das Auto) and individuals. High-stakes alliances shift: Yesterday’s homicidal maniac is today’s feted friend, as you’ll read below. And the front line of the influence war is the looming season. Which do we fear more: A nuclear winter, or a literal one? Hours before my deadline, Vladimir Putin changed that equation.
ON THE RECORD
“We need to hold fossil fuel companies and their enablers to account… Just as they did for the tobacco industry decades before, lobbyists and spin doctors have spewed harmful misinformation. Fossil fuel interests need to spend less time averting a PR disaster – and more time averting a planetary one.”
— U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, to the U.N. General Assembly on September 20
DOING GOOD AND DOING WELL: Rasmussen Global CEO Fabrice Pothier is unabashed about his vision for the future of Ukraine — and his consultancy.
“I’m positioning now our firm as the go-to place for any international actor who wants to get into Ukraine — who wants to understand, you know, what are they planning? What is interesting for me, how do I get into this market? How do we invest?” said Pothier in an interview Tuesday. In return, he added, Rasmussen can “also help Ukrainian firms or entities to get the resources and the kind of partnerships they need from abroad to survive.”
The idea is to build on intensive, high-profile relationships built through the firm’s predominantly pro bono efforts for Ukraine, which range from fundraising to buy weapons to founder Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s work hashing out a possible security guarantee for Kyiv.
CURRENT MISSION: Rasmussen, a former NATO secretary general, presented the proposal for a Kyiv Security Compact — developed at the request of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and alongside his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak — last week. It’s meant to deter Russia from invading Ukraine a third time, with a combination of financial and military investments in Ukraine from the West, and the threat of snapback sanctions against Russia, plus bilateral and regional security commitments.
Internal sell: The process was “a roller coaster,” said Pothier, a former top policy adviser at NATO. First, they had to build trust with the Ukrainians. “They have had a lot of disappointments recently with some Western donors,” he said. “We had to reassure them that they should trust us when we tell them, ‘No, here, you have to lower your your level of ambition. Here, you have to present it like this, because it’s never going to fly with this country or this other country.’”
External sell: Now the goal is to convince powerful capitals to sign on. “If the US is on board, or is seriously looking into it, I think the sale in continental Europe would be slightly easier,” Pothier said. The sticking point he said, will be the multi-year obligation, with diplomats asking, “‘Is that really, really something that our government should commit to? And if yes, how?’ And this is where we have to have that conversation.”
CROWDED FIELD: Rasmussen Global is hardly the only agency that can connect you with the Ukrainian government. APCO Worldwide is also shopping Yermak, for the Yermak-McFaul International Expert Group on Sanctions, as well as Deputy Justice Minister Irinya Mudra and Zelenskyy adviser Alexander Rodnyansky on issues like Russian asset seizure and EU accession. Ask the constellation of firms behind Advantage Ukraine — including Hill+Knowlton and WPP — and they’ll offer an interview with Yulia Svyrydenko, the first vice prime minister.
Halo effect: It’s no wonder that agencies are clamoring to help, Pothier said. It’s is “one of the most potent brands out there,” and Kyiv is “leveraging that,” he said, pointing to Zelenskyy’s call this week to “squeeze goodwill from BlackRock” about setting up an international donor fund.
“They’re very smart … saying, ‘Okay, we’ve become a brand of courage, and a positive story, and everybody wants to be associated with us. So we’re going to not do it for free, we’re going to try to get their skills, their know-how, their resources to help our country,’” Pothier said.
Our brand is NATO: Rasmussen isn’t a big agency: Pothier hopes to have up to 15 people by next year. Instead, “Anders has a name that no very well funded firm can match,” Pothier said. And they’re growing with a Ukraine emphasis: On Wednesday, the company announced hiring Nico Lange, an ex-chief of staff in the German Defense Ministry (“AKK’s wingman,” Pothier said, referring to the former German defense minister), with experience working in Ukraine and deep ties to the CDU.
Caveat: Rasmussen’s Pothier also stands out for his candor. We’d be delighted to share the big players’ insights on their motivations and credentials for helping Ukraine, but so far they’ve been reticent to speak on record about that. (That whole first-rule-of-PR-don’t-be-the-story-thing, we suppose.)
Advantage Ukraine ads in a tony Brussels neighborhood this weekend. EU Influence has been trying to get someone from GroupM, WPP and Hill+Knowlton to talk to us about this elaborate campaign (according to U.S. filings) for weeks, without success | Sarah Wheaton
UKRAINE AT UNGA
CHASING THE MESSAGE: When EU Influence first scheduled this interview with Paul M. Grod, president of the diaspora group Ukrainian World Congress (via APCO, natch), things looked like they were at a stalemate. What was the strategy to push for EU alignment on sanctions when we (the EU citizens) can’t afford electricity and start freezing our butts off, and there’s no end in site. When the interview happened last week, there was glimpse of a happy ending: the Ukrainian counter offensive was showing surprising success. Now, Putin has just issued fresh threats — a move that will, in our own analysis, reinvigorate that March feeling of Western solidarity. With those caveats in mind…
GEOPOLITICS OF SOLIDARITY: To maintain European support amid potential domestic problems, Grod said national leaders should keep stressing that “the cost being imposed on Europe is by Russia, and Russia only.” Campaigns to highlight war crimes and attacks on power plants emphasize that “this is about human rights, this is about occupation, this is about persecution.” Look for the atrocities at Bucha to get fresh attention this fall.
But this part of the world isn’t really Grod’s top concern. “Europeans are pretty rock solid right now,” he said. So the Ukrainian World Congress is working the corridors at the U.N. General Assembly this week, with side events and one-on-one meetings.
Instead, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East have moved to the front burner, and they require different messages.
Middle East: Talking too directly about politics is frowned upon in some Middle Eastern countries, Grod said. So the diaspora has a key role to make the soft sell, he said, “helping them understand that, you know, the Ukrainian people are good people, and really not getting into necessarily the discussion around Russia’s invasion.”
Africa: Moscow has had some success with convincing some African countries that Europe is at fault for things like rising food prices. So the diaspora in former British and French holdings are trying to cast Russia as the imperial oppressor. “Much like they were subjected to colonialism, this what Russia wants for Ukraine,” he said.
Latin America: Ukrainian communities have been in places like Brazil and Argentina for more than 130 years, so they’re using those roots to push back against Putin’s message that inflation is Ukraine’s fault.
WHY IT MATTERS: Sure, the weapons and training to ultimately defeat Russia would have to come from the U.S. and Europe, as would the cash for reconstruction. But Grod said these other regions are pivotal. Brazil sits on the U.N. Security Council, and Ecuador will join next year. Developing countries continue to support Russia’s economy, as do top Asian players. So the G20 meeting in Indonesia in November is also a top target, where Ukraine’s allies hope to cement perceptions of Russia as a “pariah,” if not outright eject Moscow from the club.
“It’s important for the rest of the world, the Europeans in particular, to understand that we can’t create this sort of ‘West versus everyone else’ attitude,” he said.
SAUDI ARABIA — OIL AS A SOCIAL LUBRICANT: That whole time when we were going to freeze out Saudi Arabia because of the whole murdering-a-journalist-in-Turkey thing? Yeah, that’s over.
It’s been evident in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s travels to the Continent, and Council President Charles Michel’s visit last week, and now it’s clear on Avenue Louise. At the Steigenberger Wiltcher’s hotel on Monday the Saudi ambassadors to the EU and to Belgium and Luxembourg hosted a lavish reception for hundreds of guests, whose ranks included staff from the European Commission European Commission and the U.S. embassy. The event, in honor of the country’s 92nd National Day, included a lengthy cultural program, with performances from a pianist, a saxophone soloist (highlights: his rendition of “Yesterday”), and an opera singer who stood out from the other women onstage by wearing a knee-length polka dot dress and fully exposed curls.
“Those who followed the Saudi foreign policy this year know its extent of development in terms of flexibility, dynamism, efficiency and the ability to take the rein of leadership, in addition to being trusted as a global partner,” said EU Ambassador Saad Bin Mohammed Alarify. “The credit goes in the first place to His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.” (His remarks followed some eight minutes in Arabic and a few in French from Khalid Ibrahim Al-Jindan, the envoy to Belgium and Luxembourg.)
Getting hungry during all the action on stage? Nibbles included dates with cardamom flavor-ed Arabic coffee — and wine, if you were inclined — followed by a generous buffet dinner of more traditional Belgian fare including Mechelen cuckoo filet, sea bass and gratin. There were more dates to take home in a gift bag — and another party hosted specifically by the bilateral mission is scheduled for tonight.
Alarify noted that the geopolitical situation is making EU-Saudi relations even more important. Citing a “diversifying economy,” a“dynamic” cultural landscape and “prosperity for everyone,” he invited “all Europeans to seize the exciting opportuntiies that are available in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia right now.”
— The Liaison Committee for the Agricultural and Agri-food Trade (CELCAA) appointed Nelli Hajdu to succeed Pascale Rouhier as secretary general. Hajdu was previously chief of the Southern Hemisphere Association of Fresh Fruit Exporters (SHAFFE).
— The Brazilian petrochemical company Braskem appointed Katarina Molin, a SELDIA veteran, as its new head of EU external affairs.
— Julia Riss is now Nike’s director, government and public affairs sustainability policy, EMEA, via REWE Group.
CONSULTING AND COMMS
— Portland is filling the vacancies left by its Brussels and Paris chiefs’ decampment to Flint Global, with yet another round of GPlus alumni musical chairs. Carmen Bell has been named senior partner and head of office for Portland in Brussels — rejoining the firm she worked for back when it was called GPlus, after a stint at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Bell replaces Thomas Barros-Tastets, while Stéphane Harrouch is leaving Google to fill the Portland Paris leadership post left by Anne-Juliette Rohrbach.
— Also at Portland in Brussels, Paula Iwaniuk has been promoted to partner.
— At APCO Worldwide, Lily Reisser and Christoph Mielke have been promoted to deputy managing directors in the Brussels office. Tristan Lemonnier, APCO’s deputy managing director in Paris, will also step in to cover Reisser’s role while she’s on maternity leave until early 2023, with a mandate to boost the relationship between the two offices.
— Stéphane Dupuis is a new managing director for Teneo, based in Paris but working closely with Brussels. He was formerly France’s deputy secretary general for European affairs.
— Brian Carroll, previously of Solvay, has joined FTI Consulting as a senior director in the corporate reputation practice.
— Alexandra Veidner has also joined FTI’s corporate reputation team as a senior director, via SIAT Group.
— Eddy Geerkens is now CFO of Acumen Public Affairs, after serving that role at Hill+Knowlton.
— Arthur de Liedekerke has been promoted to director for European affairs at Rasmussen.
— Rasmussen also promoted Harry Nedelcu to director for geopolitics to work with sovereign clients and the firm’s work on Ukraine.
— Robin Emmott departs Reuters for the European Defense Agency as media and communications officer.
— Pedro Serrano de Haro, chief of staff to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, has been appointed the bloc’s new ambassador to the U.K, replacing João Vale de Almeida.
ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
— Former Vestager cabinet member Helene Bille Albrechtsen joins Rasmussen as a project manager focused on critical raw materials and energy.
— Rachel Owens is the European Climate Foundation’s new director of climate finance, via Global Witness.
— Helen Willetts, formerly of Social Platform, is now communications director for Seas at Risk.
— Antonio Martínez Fernández joined Rud Pedersen’s environment & circular economy team as a research executive, via Afore Consulting.
— Kevin Hiney, formerly of Red Flag, is now communications director at Airlines for Europe (A4E).
— Tony Murphy was elected the EU Court of Auditors’ new chief on Tuesday. As my colleague Barbara Moens reports, the choice of the Irish technocrat is something of a corrective to his more political predecessor, German former MEP Klaus-Heiner Lehne, who faced his own accusations of misuse of funds.
Thought bubble: For all the concern about French and German dominance in the institutions, is anyone paying attention to Dublin’s takeover of the watchdog space, as Murphy joins EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly and her Irish-heavy team in post?! We need some sunlight on this situation!
— German MEP Ska Keller stepped down as co-chair of the Green Group in the European Parliament. The 40-year-old said she wanted to give the party sufficient time to prepare for the European election in 2024 with a new leadership. Belgian MEP Philippe Lamberts remains as sole head of the group.
— Maïa de la Baume (yes, that one) is the new spokesperson for the European People’s Party (as in the EPP party, not the EPP group, she clarified in her farewell email — clearly already anticipating the needs of us easily confused reporters). Her task, she told us, is to “modernize the party’s communication in preparation for the 2024 European elections.” Bon courage with that one, ma chère Maïa.
— James Pieper, a Finance Watch veteran, is now a communications officer for the European Democratic Party, whose MEPs caucus with the Renew Group.
— IAB Europe, the digital marketing and advertising association, elected Criteo VP Nicolas Rieul its new president, succeeding Wlodzimierz Schmidt.
— Rachele Ciavarella leaves APCO to become senior Manager, EU government affairs for Salesforce.
— Denisa Avram is returning to Brussels to work on tech policy at APCO, following a stint with Glovo in Bucharest.
— Federico Dante De Falco leaves Portland for Linklaters, where he’s now EU law and policy adviser for digital and tax.
— The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) promoted its Europe chief, Christian Borggreen, to senior vice president.
— Maria Teresa Stecher was promoted to policy adviser at CCIA.
— Expedia promoted Ana Perdigao to director government and corporate affairs/EU, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, international organisations.
— The Center for Global Development appointed Mikaela Gavas its a new Managing Director for its Europe programs, replacing Mark Plant when he steps down as Chief Operating Officer at CGD Europe next year.
THANKS TO: Suzanne Lynch, Paola Tamma and Eddy Wax; web producer Jeanette Minns and my editor Nicholas Vinocur.
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