Sector: Government Relations and Public Affairs

Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU Former model student turns into a wild child

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The Current Slovenian situation

July 1st marks the official start of Slovenia’s second Presidency of the Council of the EU, which kicks off under the shadow of the current Prime Minister Janez Janša’s quarrels with Brussels over the rule of law, press freedom, and his autocratic style. A very different atmosphere to the one around Slovenia’s first Presidency in 2008, also during Janša’s reign, which was celebrated as a role model for new EU countries.

The key agenda of the Slovenian government is to use the Presidency to raise the country’s international exposure, but also to gain some political points at home by building up a positive image for the next general election coming up in May or June 2022.

The current political environment in Slovenia is unstable as Janša’s minority government is facing growing dissatisfaction from a majority of Slovenian citizens. According to the latest opinion polls, almost 70% of voters do not support or trust the current government. The administration has been criticised for denying financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and showing tendencies to reduce funding of several media outlets, many of which have reported critically on the government’s actions. On top of questionable media freedom policies, the government has been struggling to pass important legislation having lost their parliamentary majority (currently 38 out of 90 seats).

Internationally too, Janša’s administration has been battling allegations regarding media freedom. According to the International Press Institute’s report, “Slovenia has seen press freedom deteriorate ever since Janša returned to power in March 2020. Since then, the ruling SDS party has embarked on a multipronged campaign to reshape the media landscape in favour of a pro-government narrative, renewing tactics successfully during previous administrations and forging ahead with new forms of pressure.”

Hence, it is no surprise that there is growing concern about the tone of Slovenia’s leadership of the EU council over the next six months.  There is some speculation that Brussels has a Plan B, where the presidency could be run with limited engagement from Slovenia – in the event of an early election or further government instability.

Slovenia’s Presidency Programme

Together with Germany and Portugal, Slovenia has prepared an 18-month programme, which represents the priorities and key activities across the three Presidencies. In its separate agenda for the next six months, Slovenia has identified several important topics.  Though from a Slovenian citizen’s standpoint, the Programme could be perceived as overambitious and in contrast to the government’s actual intentions. While Slovenia wants to gain some exposure and importance in the EU arena, certain priorities in the Presidency plan diverge from the Slovenian government’s actions back home – particularly on rule of law, equal criteria for all and stability in the European neighbourhood.

Key priorities

1. The resilience, recovery, and strategic autonomy of the European Union

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all EU member states and countries around the world. This requires a collective response at the EU level, since many countries are unable to appropriately respond on their own. Slovenia will try to enhance the role of the European Union and provide appropriate tools for intervention in crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Resilience will be strongly connected to national recovery plans and will be based on green and digital transitions, which will create new and secure jobs, and overall strengthen the resilience of the EU.

The autonomy of the EU plays an important role in the National Recovery & Resilience Plan. Slovenia wants to intensify the debate on ensuring European autonomy on medicine, food, and medical equipment supply. A Green and digital Europe will be achieved through sustainable and smart mobility and improved digital infrastructure, which includes changes in railroad infrastructure and reducing dependency on key raw materials.  Slovenia will take action to promote e-mobility using energy from low-emission sources, as well as take steps towards a circular economy. The goal is to use green technology to maintain and raise the competitive advantages of European companies.  It will be interesting to see how nuclear energy, which makes as much as 42% of Slovenia’s energy production, will be incorporated into this agenda.

To sum up, the Slovenian Recovery & Resilience Plan seems overambitious. The green and digital transition is far too big of an issue for Slovenia’s six month presidency. The main aim here is for Slovenia to make sure this agenda item does not go backwards during its presidency.

2. Future of Europe

The European Union has faced many challenges over the past few years, leading to the growing feeling of a need for a comprehensive debate on its common future. The Conference on the Future of Europe will provide a platform for a Europe-wide debate on the many and various views of the future of the EU. The purpose of the debate is to bring European issues closer to its citizens and get acquainted with their views on the main issues we are facing.  For this purpose, a series of events with international participation will be organised to ensure an inclusive debate on the main issues of the future EU development.

3. A union of the European way of life, the rule of law and equal criteria for all

The Slovenian programme focuses on nurturing the European common values, way of life and the rule of law. In line with the European Commission’s annual report, the Slovenian Presidency will lead the annual dialogue on the rule of law at both EU and individual Member State level. The aim is to promote a culture of the rule of law and to learn from each other’s experiences. Slovenia’s presidency also aims to show how the law can be fully connected to the national constitutional system and different traditions.

On this issue Slovenia faces a potential credibility issue, as it was one of the countries refused to support the motion at the EU level to punish countries which do not respect the rule of law.  On the contrary, Slovenia supported Hungary, as Janša is one of the rare allies of Viktor Orban. Recently, Slovenia sided with those countries that kept quiet on Hungary’s discriminating law against the LGBTQ+ community. Even though the slogan of the EU says “united in diversity”, it seems Janša and his administration have a narrower definition of the concept in practice.

4. A credible and secure European Union, capable of ensuring security and stability in its neighbourhood

Slovenia supports the work of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and wishes to strengthen the EU’s transatlantic relations and strategic alliances. In April, media reported about a so-called non-paper which was linked to the Slovenian government, containing border changes or efforts to undermine Bosnia-Herzegovina’s territorial integrity and offer a solution for Kosovo. During its Presidency, Slovenia will try to cooperate with Western Balkan countries, improving their communication and connectivity with the European Union.

Slovenia will prioritise improving the EU’s territorial security by building a stronger, more united, and expanded Schengen area, as in the past few years it has not been possible to fully implement due to illegal migrations and Covid-19 restrictions. Slovenia will lead negotiations to develop rules which will allow the EU institutions to implement procedures and legislation pertaining to the financial burden of migration more easily. Slovenia will focus on strengthening the EU’s common foreign and security policies. Regarding the issue of migration, Slovenia will focus on the protection of the external EU border and establishing a functioning policy of returning persons who have not been granted international protection to their country of origin.

Key topics and sectors

1. Green and digital transformation

One of the most important topics Slovenia has pledged to cover in its Presidency is sustainability. In this respect, the Slovenian Presidency will strive for the prompt and ambitious implementation of the Green Deal agenda and the new European Climate law aimed at making Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050. In line with the objectives of the Recovery and Resilience Facility on green investments, the Presidency will focus its efforts on the areas of climate change, biodiversity and the circular economy. Some of the key files it will be looking to move forward relate to carbon pricing (Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, revision of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme), energy (revision of the Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Efficiency Directive, the Energy Taxation directive) and sustainable mobility (fuels standards for maritime and air transport, revision of emission standards for road transport).

Since digital technologies have become essential for doing business, working, and even socialising, it is now even more important to accelerate the process of digitalisation. Slovenia’s Presidency has prioritised regulating artificial intelligence (AI), aiming to kick-start a wider discussion on rules and definitions during its Presidency. They will also organise debates and lead negotiations on further regulations on limiting the potential risks which AI can bring. Slovenia is also keen on making good progress on two major EU digital files, the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), and has set a highly ambitious aim of reaching an agreement in the Council within its term. However, this is highly unlikely to happen due to the complexity of the texts and vying interest between the EU Member States, EU institutions and other stakeholders.

The last digital priority of Slovenia lies in the areas of re-use, processing and exchange of data and the data economy, where the Slovenian Presidency will continue considerations of the Data Governance Act (DGA) and launch discussions on the Data Act. It aims to enter the final decision-making procedures on the DGA and reach a general approach or begin negotiations with the European Parliament by the end of the year.

2. Rule of law and neighbourhood stability

The rule of law plays an important role in Slovenia’s Presidency programme, and is strongly connected to policies regarding neighbourhood countries as well as European common values and way of life. The Slovenian government disagrees with the EU regarding the rejection of the nomination of the Slovenian prosecutors to a newly founded EU Prosecutor’s Office (it is worth mentioning here is that membership is voluntary). This led to the resignation of the Justice Minister mag. Lilijana Kozlovič and again raised the question of Prime Minister Janša’s respect for the rule of law. Media reports suggested that Janša refused to accept the two proposed prosecutors because they were involved in his criminal proceeding that later led to a prison sentence in 2014.

In its Presidency programme, Slovenia states it will strive to improve Western Balkan resilience, which is why Slovenia will host the EU-Western Balkans Summit on October 6th. There is a risk this will be perceived as controversial since European and local media have been reporting on the so called “non-paper” that the Slovenian government allegedly sent to the EU. The “non-paper” contains extremely controversial proposals such as border changes, especially as relations between countries in the Western Balkan region have been historically poor. Interfering with countries’ borders could adversely affect the stability of the region.

3. Cyber security

It is extremely important that cyber security is given greater priority.  The Slovenian Presidency will focus on strengthening Europe’s cyber resilience and security. They believe more needs to be done in this field, so that in case of a large cyberattack, the EU can respond in a collective and coordinated manner. The most needed improvement in this field is the exchange of information about cyber-attacks at the national and EU level. Centres for monitoring such information exchanges already exist, but the level of exchange is still too low. In particular, the smaller EU member states lack sufficient capacity for the essential clear-cut protocols of information exchange.

Slovenia will take action to boost cooperation in the field of defence and NATO, which will include dealing with cybersecurity and hybrid threats. Special attention will be devoted to disinformation and fake news, which can be solved with strategic communication. Slovenia plans to establish an EU-wide Joint Cyber Unit which will connect all member states and focus on implementing the new EU Cybersecurity Strategy. This means establishing The European Cybersecurity Competence Centre and a network of national centres that will be taking care of the issue.

Closing remarks

Although led by the same Prime Minister, Janez Janša, the two Slovenia’s Presidencies – the first in 2008 and the current one – are two different stories. Back in 2008, Slovenia was labelled as a role model student for other new EU member states to follow and former Yugoslav countries to aspire to.

Now, 13 years later, the situation is fundamentally different, not least economically. Slovenia’s 2008 EU presidency marked the last presidency before the global financial crisis spread to the whole world. Today the global and EU economy is still weighed down by the effects of the pandemic.

Politically, under Janša’s leadership, Slovenia is drifting closer to Hungary and Poland, the two EU members which are facing the biggest criticism from Brussels.

However, there is one positive: Slovenia’s EU presidency should be a turning point in the return to normal functioning – most meetings are expected to be held live and onsite!

A view from Brussels

From the EU-Brussels perspective, the Slovenian Presidency arrives at a strategically significant time – with several high-profile environmental dossiers coming out in the context of the European Green Deal, implementing economic and social recovery, and steering the European Union’s democracy project aiming to (re-)connect the EU with its citizens. Hence the anticipation, and the need, for the Slovenian Presidency to get it right – no pressure!

When it comes to Brussels’ opinion and expectations from the Presidency, the critical perception of the Slovenian Prime Minister cannot be ignored. The start of a Council presidency is typically a moment for the member state in question to showcase its priorities and perspectives. While Portugal placed social issues at the forefront of its priorities from the start, the Slovenian’s Prime Minister, Janša, used the opening days of his presidency to reiterate his defence of the controversial Hungarian legislation that has been widely denounced as anti-LGBTQ. The Hungarian law led to an emotional debate at a European Council summit in Brussels at the end of June.

Regarding green policy files, the Presidency will oversee publication of the highly anticipated ‘Fit for 55’ package which aims to bring various policy areas, such as energy taxation, energy efficiency, transportation, mobility, buildings, CO2 and methane emissions, in line with the EU’s ambitious goal of cutting net emissions by 55% by 2030.

The EU’s green transition and sustainable growth agenda represents an important driver for the post-pandemic world, making its climate action particularly powerful in a global context. For this reason, the Slovenian Presidency’s leverage and green diplomacy efforts will be crucial in global negotiations, such as the UN Climate change Conference (COP26), Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), and the G20 Summit taking place later this year. Some in Brussels are asking themselves whether the Slovenian Presidency are capable of taking this on?

The Slovenian Presidency will also host two European citizens’ events in October and December as part of the EU’s ‘New Push for Democracy’ asking the views of citizens on climate change, health policy, social justice and the future of EU democracy. While this provides a great opportunity for the Slovenian presidency to lead the EU towards its future architecture, without defined expectations, it also runs the risk of opening a Pandora’s box and leaving the voice of EU citizens unheard, again.

Overall, Brussels is getting ready for heated political discussions and bitter disputes over EU values and democracy, all while navigating external challenges, and delivering on a number of policy files. The EU institutions fear that Janša will use the Slovenian Presidency to promote aspects associated with Viktor Orban’s “illiberal democracy vision”.

Conversely, France, which is going to take over the EU Presidency in 2022, has already placed “belonging” and the promotion of European citizenship in the middle of its roadmap. The success of these two largely different paths is yet to be seen.

If we look back at previous Presidencies, the Slovenian Presidency in many ways is perceived as potentially one of the most polemic, and Brussels is already gearing up to what one commentator has said is likely to be “a very rocky, politically-charged 6-months…so we will be glad to be in January under the French”. This is a clear sign that the EU is not politically unified – but one could argue that this is the very essence of democracy: being able to discuss different opinions openly.  Nevertheless, EU leaders will be watching very closely how these 6 months unfold. It is certainly one to watch!

Fit for 55: the clock starts ticking for Europe’s climate neutrality promise

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Grayling Brussels explores the new package of legislation put forward by the European Commission to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030. What are the main challenges ahead? What should businesses prepare for?

The EU’s legislative green makeover is finally here. As the name implies, the Fit for 55 package intends to bring the EU’s regulatory framework in line with the intermediate emissions reduction target of 55% by 2030 on the path to climate neutrality by mid-century. The targets themselves were made binding by the European Climate Law earlier this year.

The first instalment of the legislative behemoth comes with 12 proposals on both new legislation and revisions of existing rules, covering carbon pricing, renewables, and transport infrastructure, among others. These will be further complemented by the second instalment, including proposals on methane emissions and gas markets, this autumn.

How disruptive is the Fit for 55 package?

The legislative package will have far reaching implications for sectors throughout the EU economy – including on energy, transport, and manufacturing.


The revised Renewable Energy Directive will boost the use of renewables in all sectors by strengthening the targets (from 32% to 40% of renewables in the EU’s energy consumption by 2030) and sustainability criteria for their use and production. The new rules equally support the use of renewables-based hydrogen. With the Energy Efficiency Directive, the Commission will also enshrine the ‘Energy Efficiency First’ principle and set a binding energy efficiency target at the EU level.


To curb emissions from road transport, the Commission proposes to strengthen emissions standards for cars and vans and ramp up low and zero-emission mobility by rolling out approximately 3.5 million recharging points by 2030 through the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Directive. To reach substantial emissions reductions in the aviation and maritime sectors, the Commission is setting up new fuel standards. It is also relying on the revised Renewable Energy Directive to support the uptake of renewable fuels and on the Energy Taxation Directive to repeal exemptions on conventional fuels.


The Commission puts forward a revision of EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) to adjust the cap of total emissions and remove tradeable allowances from the market. Apart from increasing the cost of carbon emissions, the revision brings new sectors under the ETS, such as maritime, road transport and buildings. To avoid “carbon leakage”, the Commission is also proposing a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) to put a price on carbon for energy-intensive imports of cement, iron and steel, aluminium, fertilisers and electricity from 2023.

Challenges ahead

Three key challenges surround the proposals launched under the Fit for 55 package: level of ambition, regulatory uncertainty, and international reaction.

First, its level of climate ambition. Previous negotiations on the Climate Law and the EU Taxonomy have demonstrated the high level of politicisation associated with climate files, and work around the new proposals will not be any different. An intensely political tug-of-war on the means of climate action from preferred technologies to sustainability thresholds is expected between the member states, European Parliament groups, and even the Commission’s Directorates. As a result, businesses in Europe and beyond need to prepare for a crucial 24 months ahead that will determine the outcomes of the legislative package for their specific industries.

Second, adding to the prospect of political unpredictability is the regulatory uncertainty caused by the full reopening of the energy policy files, most of which were recently revised as a part of the Clean Energy Package in 2016-2019. For example, the full national implementation of the 2018 Renewable Energy Directive recast was finalised only two weeks ago. It is also unclear to what extent the tightened climate rules will be retroactively applied to existing investments and assets in the different policy proposals.

Third, there will also be international ramifications from the regulatory overhaul of the world’s largest trading bloc. This is particularly true when it comes to the extension of the emissions trading system (ETS) and the establishment of a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM). Reactions from the EU’s trading partners are likely to influence and complicate the internal legislative negotiations on the package.

The European Commission will also want to leverage Fit for 55 during the upcoming COP 26. It remains to be seen if the package can effectively become a stepping stone to secure an agreement ensuring global net-zero by mid-century and keeping the 1.5°C target within reach.

Managing stakeholders’ expectations, a balancing act

The ‘Fit for 55’ hype has created huge expectations. The EU institutions will have to find ways to reconcile competing interests without watering down the green transition, amid intense scrutiny from stakeholders. European Commission Executive Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, recognised that “there’s good and bad for everyone in these proposals, so we need to create a balance”.

BusinessEurope Director General Markus Beyrer presented the European Business community’s wish list requesting “that the package support large scale industrial projects, reinforce measures against carbon and investment leakage and give space for all low carbon and transitional energy sources”.

Along the same lines, civil society actors such as CAN Europe have called for a “Fit for 1.5°C package”. The NGO coalition requested that “the revised legislation go for their maximum of ambition when it comes to reducing emissions” to reach 65% emissions reductions by 2030.

Considering the pressure that handling so many key initiatives at the same time puts on the institutions, policymakers will have to rely on the sectoral expertise of industry stakeholders to determine the best way to foster cost-efficient decarbonisation.

Once the threats and opportunities of the package have been accounted for, it is up to businesses to demonstrate credible transition pathways and the necessity of their sector to a European economy that is fit for 55.

Get in touch with us ( and follow the conversation on the Fit for 55 package on Twitter @TheEULobby

Targeted advertising in the EU: to regulate or to ban, that is the question

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The current European Commission has a strong digital agenda and has made Internet regulation one of its key priorities. Sofia Calabrese, Senior Consultant in Grayling Brussels’ New Technologies practice assesses what this might mean for targeted advertising.

“We are building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.” said sociologist Zeynep Tufekci in a popular TED talk, echoing concerns from policymakers, academics and civil society. It was 2017. Four years later, we still have not answered the question of whether should regulate online advertising – and if yes, how? This remains one of the essential questions around Internet regulation, particularly in the EU’s Digital Services Act and Artificial Intelligence Act proposals, encompassing issues ranging from data protection to Artificial Intelligence and from disinformation to democracy.

Since the adoption of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation in 2016, targeted advertising has been a shadow looming over EU policy discussions. The current European Commission has a strong digital agenda and has made Internet regulation one of its key priorities. Although there is no legislation solely dedicated to targeted advertising (yet), some of the most political digital files would attempt to address such issues. In particular, the Digital Services Act will introduce new transparency obligations to inform users if, and why, they are targeted by each ad and who paid for it. Some policymakers went further and asked for an outright ban on targeted advertising. This could happen if EU policymakers do not manage to find effective rules to tackle the matter, despite the subsequent negative consequences on the advertising industry and the online ecosystem. But why is targeted advertising such a delicate issue for Internet regulation?

Digital advertising is a form of advertising which uses the Internet to deliver promotional marketing messages to consumers. Targeted advertising is a form of online advertising that exploits users’ data to recommend products or services it expects the user will like. It is said to be more efficient for companies, as it minimises advertisement to non-interested consumers, and more beneficial for consumers as they will only receive advertisements for products they are interested in.

To be effective, targeted advertising requires huge amounts of data. According to David Hansson, cofounder of web software company Basecamp, targeted advertising is one of the main causes for privacy concerns online. If companies could not use data to target ads, they would not need to obtain the data in the first place and misuse it later. If this sounds extreme, think about the Facebook hearing by the US Senate at the peak of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked how Facebook could make money by offering a free service: “Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg simply replied.

Regulating targeted advertising: is it possible?

Privacy is the first issue posed by targeted ads that has been addressed by EU policymakers, notably with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the e-Privacy Regulation; the latter contains rules on cookies and is still under discussion. IAB Europe, representing the advertising industry, argues that such rules are sufficient, if properly enforced. Some policymakers, however, are pushing to include additional rules on targeted advertising in the Digital Service Act, the new EU legislation to regulate online content. Such rules would not only be limited to privacy, but also include transparency obligations and codes of conduct.

Furthermore, targeted advertising is managed by algorithms and algorithms are known to pick up and perpetuate existing biases. It is common knowledge that women tend to see more ads for lower paid jobs, while people of certain ethnicities are more likely to see ads on legal advice for petty crimes. This reinforces stereotypes and increases inequality. Artificial Intelligence regulation is one of the top priorities in the EU with the recent proposal on an Artificial Intelligence Act. This legislation will attempt to avoid discrimination and ensure high-quality datasets for certain high-risk AI applications. Such applications do not include targeted advertising – yet. More discussions on the issue are still to come.

Finally, many think that issues related to the effect of disinformation on democracy are exclusively linked to political ads, but this is wrong. Algorithms favour news with controversial headlines and tendentious material, as users are more likely to click on the link and get access to the page containing the ads. This eventually favours one-sided, polemical and fallacious content leading to more disinformation around all sort of topics, including on politics. Judging from the severe consequences of disinformation in real life, such as the events of Capitol Hill or the anti-vax movements, policymakers are finding it hard to fight disinformation online. Attempts such as the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, transparency measures and promoting the role of fact-checkers do not seem to have succeeded yet.

Banning targeted advertising: is it worth it?

Currently, effective policies to address targeted advertising have not yet been found. Given the serious concerns around ads, it is therefore not surprising to hear requests for a more radical solution: an outright ban on targeted advertising. Some also argue that the benefits of targeted advertising are not as significant as they are presented, and that contextualized advertising would be a valid alternative to address some of the issues described above while maintaining equal profits for companies.

Is this the end of targeted advertising? There is no straightforward answer. At this stage, most policymakers are trying to find new rules that would not ban targeted advertising completely. Should that not work, banning targeted advertising altogether could represent the last resort. However, if policymakers manage to work with relevant stakeholders towards establishing efficient rules to address the main concerns – data protection, algorithmic discrimination and disinformation – it will be possible to make the Internet a safe environment for users while preserving the opportunities offered by targeted advertising.


Interested in further updates on the EU’s digital policies? Get in touch with our tech experts in Brussels:



Grayling EU Public Affairs continues to expand its team

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Grayling has announced the appointment of three new team members in its EU Public Affairs Team in Brussels: Hannah Thominet, Dorottya Meszner and Ruth Artiles Valero.

Hannah joins Grayling with a background in the non-profit and government sectors, having worked pre-Brexit for the UK Permanent Representation to the EU. At Public Libraries 2030, she helped the sector re-ignite a European spirit of collaboration and profile its role to promote a democratic, socially engaged and digitally inclusive Europe. At Grayling, she will build on this advocacy expertise to help clients push their own goals around issues as diverse as health prevention, self-care, climate, and sustainable development.

Grayling Brussels is also onboarding two additional recruits from the EU institutions: Dorottya Meszner, joining from the European Parliament’s Communications DG, successfully converted her internship into a permanent position; and Ruth Artiles Valero joining from a Blue Book position in the Taxation and Customs Union DG of the European Commission.

Russell Patten, CEO of Grayling in Belgium, said: “We are delighted to welcome Hannah, Dorottya and Ruth, our new British, Hungarian and Spanish colleagues to our EU Public Affairs Team. Their combined insider experience across the three EU institutions and knowledge of how to navigate the EU landscape will add great value to the client accounts they will be supporting across our health, consumer, trade and energy practices.”

Hannah Thominet added: “It is an exciting moment to join the Grayling Brussels team at a time of fast expansion. I am looking forward to working across such a diverse range of exciting clients and with a group of young, multinational, talented Public Affairs professionals.”


For further information on the appointments please contact

Hannah Thominet, Dorottya Meszner and Ruth Artiles Valero are the latest additions to Grayling’s PA team in Brussels.

Grayling reinforces its EU Public Affairs Team with three new hires

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Grayling has announced the appointment of Charles Feld as the new Director and Head of its EU Energy & Environment Practice in Brussels. New Manager Dominik Flikweert and Senior Consultant Otto Ilveskero also joined this month to further reinforce the team’s sustainability credentials.

Charles joins Grayling from the leading worldwide transportation and shipping group CMA CGM, where he represented the company’s European advocacy strategy. Previously, Charles worked in the European Parliament as political adviser to French MEP Philippe Juvin. His professional experience also covers the European Commission and the External Action Service.

Grayling Brussels has further reinforced its EU Energy & Environment Policy Practice with two additional appointments: Manager Dominik Flikweert, joining from LightingEurope with an extensive background in eco-design and energy efficiency and Otto Ilveskero, who has specialist expertise in green finance, renewable energy, and green technologies.

Russell Patten, CEO of Grayling in Belgium, said: “Charles, Dominik and Otto’s appointments further strengthen our already considerable expertise in the field of sustainability – including energy, transport and climate policy, a growing area of focus for us. Their experience and knowledge of specialist policy will bring added value to our clients’ businesses.”

Charles Feld added: “It is an exciting moment to join the Grayling Brussels team in a year that will be key for Europe’s global climate leadership, ahead of the Fit for 55 announcements and COP26. An increasing number of organisations are trying to get their voice heard on the green transition and we have lined-up the perfect team of experts to advise and guide them.”


Charles Feld, Dominik Flikweert and Otto Ilveskero (from left to right).


For further information on the appointments please contact

First pan-European study published on the way politicians are using social media

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Grayling has published the first pan-European study on the way in which politicians across Europe are using social media, revealing the impact of geography, gender, age and political alignment on social media communications.

The study, which was conducted in partnership with social media intelligence firm Linkfluence, analysed almost 3 million pieces of content posted by members of Parliament across 17 European countries, as well as the European Parliament, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The role of social media as a channel for engaging policy-makers has been on the agenda for Public Affairs professionals for a long time – certainly since the power of social media in political campaigning became clear, which has been obvious at least since Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008.


But how are politicians in Europe actually using social media?

The volume of activity varies quite significantly in different parts of Europe:

“The results are, to say the least, fascinating but it’s not easy to pick out clear explanations for the geographical discrepancies we see in how much MPs/MEPs are posting on social media. It’s much easier to refute theories than to suggest explanations which fit the data. There are no doubt multiple factors, and that’s ok with us. We love data but, like all good Public Affairs professionals, we like speculation and a good debate even more”, said Russell Patten, CEO of Grayling Brussels & Grayling’s Chairman of European Public Affairs.


MPs are not focusing on the same platforms as their constituents

In all bar one of the 17 countries, Facebook ranks as the most popular of the three platforms amongst the general public, with Instagram second and Twitter third (Russia is the only exception; there, Instagram ranks first, followed by Facebook and then Twitter).

However, MPs are publishing 67% of their posts on Twitter, with 28% on Facebook and 5% on Instagram. And the data for followers are similar: Twitter accounts for 79%, Facebook for 14% and Instagram for 7%.

“The fact that Twitter is the most popular social media platform probably won’t surprise many people. However, the results also highlight the diversity that exists across Europe, as there are some very local exceptions to regional trends, even between neighbouring countries. For example, given that the Czech Republic and Slovakia were one country for many decades before 1993, you would expect Czech and Slovak MPs to behave in a very similar manner on social media. But the opposite is true. Twitter dominates in the Czech Republic; in Slovakia, on the other hand, more than 80% of posts are on Facebook – with Twitter playing a negligible role. There are many factors that might explain this, but without understanding these local dynamics, it is impossible for businesses to run effective multi-country digital advocacy campaigns”, said Jakub Hudec, Head of Public Affairs, Grayling Czech Republic.


MPs are genuine influencers online

The ‘engagement rate’ is simply the number of engagements (likes, shares, retweets, comments etc.) with a piece of content divided by the number of people who follow that account:

“Looking at the average engagement rate for Members of Parliament across Europe, they engage their audiences via Instagram, Facebook and Twitter much more effectively than the average social media industry benchmarks for brands, and even ‘influencers’. There could be several reasons for this. First, while Twitter, Facebook or Instagram users may choose to follow lifestyle accounts in a more ‘passive’ capacity, the action of following a politician will usually translate into ‘active’ political engagement and followers voicing their opinions on the posts. Second, politicians rapidly understood that social media platforms constitute a unique opportunity to transform the way they communicate to citizens. This means moving away from broadcasting to stimulating an actual debate which allows politicians to ‘survey’ their voters’ positions in real time, ahead of electoral milestones”, said Delphine Millot, Managing Director, Grayling Brussels.


Male and female MPs are using social media differently

Male MPs are posting slightly more on Facebook than their female counterparts, while women are posting more than men on Twitter (and Instagram). Average engagement rates for female MPs are also higher than for male MPs – at least on Facebook and Twitter:

“The fact that female MPs favour Twitter even more than men is a surprise given that Twitter is the most male-dominated of the three platforms amongst the general public. There’s also, let’s face it, the abuse that politicians receive on social media, particularly on Twitter – and which afflicts female MPs even more seriously than it does men. It is partly explained by the fact that female MPs are, on average, younger (our analysis shows that younger MPs favour Twitter and Instagram) and are also more likely to be on the Left (particularly the Centre Left, where Twitter is clearly the favoured platform). And why are female MPs seeing higher engagement rates for their posts on both Twitter and Facebook? Based on a couple of micro analyses, posts which generate the strongest engagement are those which find the right tone for the moment, are constructive and avoid trying to score cheap political points. Maybe this is where female politicians have an edge over some of their male counterparts?”, said Geraldine Schroeder, Managing Director, Grayling Germany.


Age is also a factor

“The fact that age affects social media use isn’t exactly a bombshell – most of us know that from our own families. What is surprising is that the very youngest MPs (the under 35s, who account for approximately 10% of the total) are not the most active group on social media. They are, though, the most active on Instagram and their content generates the highest engagement rates across all three platforms. This suggests that it’s quality rather than quantity for the youngest MPs: they understand how to use social media and prioritise generating comments, likes, shares and retweets over a high volume of posts”, said Ben Petter, Chief Operating Officer, Europe at Grayling.


The extreme ends of the political spectrum are disproportionately active


“This data shows that the Right have been the most effective at building a following on social media. The Right’s messaging is also spread more evenly across all three platforms, suggesting they are the most efficient in sharing content and certainly the most consistent in using them. The Right also has the highest level of engagement on Twitter – although this includes opponents engaging to criticise. All in all, the Right are winning on social media at the moment, by a very wide margin on Twitter and Instagram. This has also provided them with a platform to get noticed by traditional media in a way that hasn’t been available to similar parties in the past. It remains to be seen if this is a long-lasting structural benefit for the Right, as a result of social media making it difficult to convey political context, complexity and nuance or whether a combination of platforms moderating content more and other groups improving their messaging on social media mean this trend will change in the future”, said Clare Moody, former MEP and Senior Strategic Director at Grayling.


Interested in a bespoke analysis focused on priority topics for your company?

Grayling, in partnership with Linkfluence, has launched ‘GPol’, a social media monitoring and digital advocacy service. GPol combines the social listening capabilities of Linkfluence with the local market knowledge of Grayling’s unrivalled network of Public Affairs consultants across Europe. Find out more about how GPol will help you turn those insights into effective advocacy campaigns here.

For more details on our European research, or to explore the data for a specific country, please contact Ben Petter: or send an email to

Peter Fecko appointed new CEO of Grayling CEE

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Grayling has appointed Peter Fecko as the new Chief Executive Officer in the CEE region, effective 1 January 2021.

Grayling was one of the first international agency networks to set up shop in CEE in the early 90ies and has successfully expanded its footprint in the region over the past decades – providing corporate communications consultancy and extensive public affairs support in addition to classic public relations services. In his new leadership role as CEO of Grayling CEE (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine) Peter Fecko is responsible for taking the region to the next level in terms of business growth.

Peter has been active in the communications industry for more than 20 years, working originally as a journalist for business media in Slovakia and prior to joining Grayling and establishing its office in Bratislava, Slovakia in 2000. Over the past 12 years, he has been managing further Grayling operations in CEE including, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria, while continuing to provide strategic advice for multi-market key clients.

The newly created CEO role for the CEE region is linked to the recently announced new leadership roles and Grayling’s biggest-ever commitment to agency-wide cultural initiatives: significant investment has been made to ensure that Grayling staff worldwide feel more connected to each other and the business, and that best practice and local understanding is shared seamlessly across markets.

Ben Petter, Chief Operating Officer Grayling Europe, said:
“Grayling’s network in CEE is one of the agency’s great strengths. It has showed remarkable resilience throughout the pandemic, primarily because of its outstanding Public Affairs and Crisis Communications offer. Peter has such a wealth of experience in these areas, as well as Corporate Communications more broadly. Under his leadership, we are very confident that Grayling will continue to go from strength to strength in CEE.”

Peter Fecko, CEO Grayling CEE, said:
“Grayling has the most comprehensive and best-connected footprint of any agency in the CEE region. That has always made us an obvious choice for clients looking for multi-country support, but we are also seeing increasing demand for integrated Corporate Affairs services, covering both Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. This is our sweet spot across the region, and we expect to see significant growth in this area in 2021.”


Let the sunshine in: Transparency is critical ahead of COP26

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Transparency is king. That was the clear message last week from the panellists at Grayling’s first COP26 event of 2021. Neil Thomas, Senior Account Director in our London team, shares the main insights from the event.

The event kicked off a year of action around this year’s climate change conference and brought together a stellar panel featuring Baroness Sue Hayman, CDP’s Global Head of Value Chains Sonya Bhonsle, Quiller’s Deputy CEO Andrew Hammond and BT’s Head of Environmental Sustainability Gabrielle Ginér.

Drawing upon years of combined experience of attending UN Climate Change Conferences, all our panellists agreed that – despite the distraction and disruption of COVID-19 – COP26 is set to be the most important conference ever.

In the last few months, the new Biden administration has injected new energy into the global fight against climate change. Re-joining the Paris Agreement on day one of his presidency, Joe Biden is also expected to announce an enormous infrastructure bill in the coming days which will include huge climate spending. This comes after the other two members of ‘the big three’ – China and the EU – also made big climate change commitments in the last year.

There is also renewed pressure on governments and businesses to act, from above and below. Investors are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to reporting requirements. The global climate strike led by young people around the world and led by the tireless Greta Thunberg has also created immense pressure.

And increasingly, business leaders know action on climate change means good business. Indeed, in research recently carried out by Grayling, 70% of business leaders stated “alongside making a profit, businesses also have a collective responsibility to the societies they operate in”.

In the lead up to the Paris agreement, climate targets by businesses were often half-hearted according to Sonya Bhonsle: “Companies were setting targets in line with what they thought they could do but we’ve seen a change since then from what can we do? to what is necessary?“.

For example, many have signed up to the Science Based Targets initiative, which represents a commitment by these businesses to act in line with limiting carbon emissions to a 1.5 degree rise in global temperatures.

“Business leaders know this is a moment”, agreed Andrew Hammond.

But what of those companies that have yet to take the first step when it comes to taking meaningful action on climate change and want to engage with COP26?

For Bhonsle, transparency is key.

“We’re still hearing from many companies that, when it comes to disclosing carbon inventory, putting their head above the parapet is scary. By contrast, investors are saying that transparency is key – and anything is better than nothing. No one expects perfection in year one.”

Clearly then, for those brands wanting to demonstrate climate leadership and get involved at COP26, a commitment to disclosing carbon budgets helps build credibility and shows seriousness.

Beyond reporting, how should climate goals be framed – especially at a time when stakeholders are becoming more sceptical after the raft of announcements coming out of many companies in the last year or so?

Quiller’s Andrew Hammond suggested that “it has to be a mix of both”.

“You need the headline initiatives to drive transparency. They also offer a sense of clarity and purpose for the future.

But you also need shorter term initiatives to get there as well. One of the big lessons of the last 5 years is that you can make these pledges, but you need to show granular progress year by year. The key thing that will hopefully come out of Glasgow is making deeper cuts, deeper pledges.”

Telecoms giant BT has a commitment to be net-zero by 2045, and an interim target of cutting carbon emissions by 87% by 2035. Gabrielle Ginér added, “it’s important to have those interim targets so companies can demonstrate to how they’re getting on along the way – and the barriers that they face in order to reach them.”

When it comes to companies that are still on the fence about taking meaningful action on carbon emissions, the window of opportunity is closing. For Baroness Hayman, “The future of climate change action is from the bottom-up. It has to be that way, otherwise people – and especially young people who are by far and away the most engaged in climate issues – won’t buy into it.”

Are you looking to engage with COP26? Contact or to see how we could help you make your mark at this year’s critical UN Climate Change Conference.

A Ripe Environment for Radical Health Reform

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In a normal year, World Health Day, which is today (7th April), would largely pass us by without much thought, but we don’t find ourselves in normal times, and health is now prevalent in every aspect of our lives. And that change is particularly apparent in the way we communicate.

Until now a silo has existed around healthcare policy. The pandemic and the focus this has drawn to our health services means this is no longer the case. Health is now everyone’s business, and its connection to other issues, including the environment and economy, have never been more transparent. That brings fresh challenges, but also the opportunity to engage wider audiences on previously siloed topics.

From our analysis of online health conversations, we’ve been able to see how the nature of the debates around health have slowly changed over the pandemic. In the first three months of the pandemic there was a strong connection between health and the economy, as financial markets tumbled and the global economy stalled. Politics and healthcare were also very much in the news as governments reacted either vigorously or cautiously to the virus. Yet, even in these early months, we witnessed a growing connection between health and the environment – particularly from younger female audiences.

As the pandemic has rolled on, we have seen a changing dimension in the nature of online debate. The discussion around the economy and healthcare, for example, has moved from being largely negative to being more positive in places, both in terms of the role that the pharmaceutical industry has played, but also the role of tech start-ups. We have also seen a more widespread growth in the connection between healthcare and ecology.

All of these conversations are breaking down the barriers between healthcare and other topics, which means that when organisations are communicating, they need to think carefully about their audiences, messages and any potential repercussions in other sectors.

This, more inclusive debate, will become much more important in the months and years ahead. It matters because UK unemployment is continuing to rise and is expected to reach nearer 6%, with youth unemployment, which currently stands at over 14%, accounting for a significant portion of that figure. The damage this will cause to people is not merely economic, it is also likely to be detrimental to their health.

There is a growing wealth of evidence highlighting the importance of connections between good health and employment and access to the environment. We all benefit from the opportunity to work and socialise, with clear health benefits associated with supported work. Equally, we all profit from access to the environment, reaping the benefits both emotionally and physically of walking, running or cycling in our natural surroundings.

Political awareness of the inter-connection of health is the final piece of the jigsaw. Health policy has been largely an issue about institutions and services. If we are to break the mould of healthcare, perhaps now is the time for our governments to start to rethink healthcare and make the connections between health and other aspects of our lives. Both the UK and Scottish Government continue to think in largely departmental terms, so breaking down these silos will be no easy task.

There has probably never been a better time to implement more radical reform; the change in public discourse demonstrates that we are starting to think differently about health. Making the linkages between health and other topics will enable us to recognise that healthcare policy and decision-making is not a silo issue for clinicians and politicians to ponder, but an issue that affects all of us.

Ross Laird is Director and Head of Scotland at Grayling