Making Waves in Brussels
Making waves in Brussels
John Gielen, the Independent Chairman of the EU Federation (EUF) and John Brehcist, EUF Co-ordinator, talk to BCR Factorscan about the role of the EUF in promoting the offering in Brussels, the opportunities presented to the industry by the downturn and the level of coverage that the EUF enjoys within Europe’s factoring community.
Have the problems faced by European economies and the euro zone made the role of the EU Federation all the more pressing?
Gielen - Without doubt there are profound economic pressures evident across parts of Europe. Of course, as we know, the situation varies dramatically; from those economies with extremely serious challenges, to those where recovery from the recession is progressing well. The position across Europe is not homogenous. This diversity extends well beyond the current economic conditions of course, with variations in legal environment, business conditions and local culture. In this context, the EUF (which, by the way, is not limited to the Eurozone: it covers the wider European Union also) seeks to act as the voice of the industry at this level, to raise awareness and to create a level playing field to facilitate the development of the Industry.
What have been the major concerns of euro zone members in recent months and how has the EU Federation sought to support its members during this difficult period?
Brehcist - Confidence has to be the overriding concern; the importance of the stability of the euro, the stability of trading conditions and the maintenance of healthy cross-border business finance and collections. As much as we would like it, unfortunately the EUF does not have a magic wand; we do not have the power to affect economic conditions; what we can do is to ensure that policymakers in Brussels know the industry is here, what it is capable of, what we can contribute and what we need from the lawmakers to facilitate what we do.
A number of factors left the UK market in 2009-2010. How have other European markets fared? Have there been a lot of factoring departures in Europe?
Gielen - As I mentioned earlier, the market is not homogenous and there was no such pattern of withdrawal across the continent; the UK market is relatively speaking mature and fragmented with many providers. In difficult times consolidation is only to be expected. Other European markets are not necessarily in a similar position.
What issues have members raised as of concern in recent months and how is the Federation looking to tackle these in Brussels?
Brehcist - The EUF is in constant dialogue with the European institutions in Brussels on a range of issues including for example, VAT treatment, contract law, cross border debt enforcement and late payment legislation. Effectively, if there is an issue that potentially affects our industry at a supranational level, then the EUF will be looking to influence developments.
How receptive has Brussels been to the EU Federation and what have been the major successes achieved by the group thus far?
Gielen - The challenge in Brussels is always to find the most appropriate target stakeholders to influence. As we progress we are becoming much better known as a voice to be heard and listened to. From a starting point last year, when few were aware of our industry, increasingly the movers and shakers are listening to us and taking serious note of what we say.
We see our major success as the actual creation of the EUF as a body. Until 2009, the factoring and commercial finance industry was simply not represented at the EU level, unlike other financial industries such as leasing, consumer credit, banking, etc. We are pleased to note that the stakeholders in Brussels have very positively welcomed the EUF as the representative of a part of the financial community which is particularly involved in servicing SMEs.
Since the crisis how have attitudes towards factoring changed in Brussels?
How is the EU Federation looking to exploit any change in attitude?
Brehcist - As John Gielen mentions, there is a clear awareness in Brussels of the key role of SMEs in delivering increasing and sustainable prosperity for Europe and also a new and improving awareness of the role of our industry in funding this sector (as well of course in the mid and large corporate market) both nationally and cross border. It’s important that we continue to take advantage of this developing environment of awareness to benefit our members.
What are your expectations for 2010-2011? What kind of impact are you hoping that the EU Federation can have in the longer term in Europe and Brussels?
Gielen - With 12 national associations and IFG and FCI as members, we already represent the overwhelming majority of European industry players (with members directly representing 92% of EU factoring turnover). We have meanwhile recently set up an Economics and Statistics Committee (ESC) to collate data so that we can present Brussels with the most complete and up-to-date information on the state and impact of our combined industry. This knowledge will support us as we continue to lobby for the industry, to ensure our voice is heard and to directly influence the future path of commercial Europe.
Equally, our Legal Committee (which was established in June 2009) helps the EUF to give stakeholders expert and professional legal and fiscal opinions on matters which are important for our industry and its clients, so ensuring that our collective voice is listened to in the corridors of European power.