December 18, 2012
I had intended to start this blog in the new year, but two recent Council decisions and their subsequent media coverage offered useful food for thought.
On the 13th December, the Council agreed to establish the first step of the much anticipated and much discussed, European banking union. A Council Press Communiqué outlined an agreement on a new “SSM” (single supervisory mechanism). This body will be run by a supervisory board established within the ECB and will have direct supervisory capacities over national banks. It is expected that the Parliament will also endorse the proposal. Be that as it may, critics have been quick to highlight flaws, namely that it represents too little agreement. Notably absent from the proposal is the mention of bank resolution and deposit insurance, which emphasises the political unwillingness of Europe to move down a shared fiscal path. Even the supervisory capacities themselves limited, concerning only institutions with over €30bn or 25% of national assets, which realistically will represent about 1% of eurozone banks.
On the 17th December, the Council adopted two new regulations to secure the creation of a unitary European patent system. This followed a positive vote by the Parliament on the 11th December. Under the current system, patent protection must be sought across each of the individual 27 member states; at 18 times the cost of a typical US patent and 60 times the cost of a Chinese equivalent. Following this reform however, inventors and businesses alike could see their bid for patents fall from €35,000 to just €5,000. Although the system will take some time to establish, a uniform patent will help to coax back precious R&D whilst also increasing the competitiveness and attractiveness of the European market. The European Commission hopes to have the first European patent by 2014, the year that will also herald the arrival of the SSM.
Now for a little diversion around Greek mythology. Sisyphus was the founder and king of Corinth (known as Ephyra). Sisyphus is variously attributed with cheating death, insulting Gods and killing travellers. As with all myths, the details vary but the message is similar; he was subsequently punished in the after world, condemned to an eternal labour of pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom when it reached the top.
Modern day Greece has played a starring role in the current eurozone dramatics, however this is not the reason for our little mythological diversion. The imagery of eternal labour is fitting to describe the current state of European policymaking and media coverage. The agreement on a European patent represents a significant and positive step forward for European business and growth; yet I found that several of the largest UK papers made no mention of the development. Where banking union was concerned, coverage generally tended towards negative and critical commentary (perhaps rightly so). The point is this however; for all the complaints about the lack of European communication, every piece of good news is either drowned out or undone by a larger raucous of political disagreement. This may not be the ‘fault’ of any official institutional communicators; blame is hardly appropriate in a global mediapolis where no-one controls the end message. Nevertheless, perhaps it is worth spending some more time reflecting on how to effectively communicate good news, which would ultimately avoid continuing a pattern of eternal up-hill struggle.