20 ways to win negotiations in Brussels – John Gummer reveals the answers

John Gummer’s article in today in the Guardian shows a master negotiators hand.

Britain got its way in the EU when it mattered – I know, I was there


For ease of reference I have pasted it below.

I have known John Gummer since my school days in a Roman Catholic school in Suffolk, UK. John Gummer bravely converted to Catholicism in the 1980s. He came to my school to give a talk on the famous covert, Cardinal John Henry Newman. He also gave me the Politics Department Prize.

I have bumped into him when working in DG Environment and WWF. He is an honourable and decent man. I don’t hold the same party card as him, but I knew him as a most able British Minister, who won many victories in EU talks for the UK.

Negotiating is good

The simple truth is that negotiation is the best solution to getting a good deal. Some people tell me it is sign of weakness.  I think chest beating like a gorilla makes your position look deranged.

Now, I’ll admit as a Roman Catholic from N.Ireland I probably have some issues about alternatives to negotiation. But, as the Good Friday Agreement shows, it’s the best way for people to settle their differences.

In my experience of passing laws in Brussels, especially in the DG Environment and working for Labour politicians in the European Parliament, I came across the strange tactic of the US Government intervening, in Brussels or national capitals, to try and stop an EU environmental measure.

I say strange because every time I encountered it, it always led to a lot more votes switching over to my side than I could ever have hoped for. In fact, I landed up hoping the USTR would start lobbying against the law I was working on, as it meant getting it past was made a sure thing.


20 Rules for Negotiating in the EU

  1. Fight your corner fairly
  2. Have a reputation as an informed and committed negotiator
  3. Don’t lecture
  4. Have strong relationships with those your are negotiating with
  5. Develop friendships with those you are negotiating with
  6. Be honest about your political needs
  7. Be trusted
  8. Debate with proof and respond with proof
  9. Act consensually
  10. Act in your national interest when you need to
  11. Look for a solution
  12. Lead with solutions
  13. Bring the science
  14. Work the room
  15. Never pretend
  16. Always turn up
  17. Know everyones positions
  18. Work very hard
  19. Avoid easy silly political wins
  20. My favourite “Listening, arguing, explaining and showing we believed in the system and wanted to learn as well as teach – that made all the difference.”




Britain got its way in the EU when it mattered – I know, I was there

We are unravelling the greatest peacetime project of our lives because Brexiteers insist we’ve lost control. But it’s simply not true

John Gummer served as environment secretary in John Major’s Conservative government between 1993 and 1997

‘In a single market, the UK’s refusal to allow the export of live horses for food was clearly illegal but politically essential.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Acontinuing refrain of the Brexiteers is that Britain has always lost out to the rest of Europe in negotiations. This derives partly from the way successive governments have portrayed the EU as a battleground in which there is room only for victory or defeat. It is also explained by the tendency of politicians to blame “Europe” for everything – often to divert attention from their own shortcomings.

In fact, the UK has led Europe in a remarkable way, and has rarely failed to gain its major objectives. However the process is one of debate and argument, proof and counter-argument, rather than demanding that the rest of EU should immediately see the sense in our position and give way without question. It is this assumption of always being right that has bedevilled our relationships with our neighbours.

When I first went into the Department of the Environment (DoE) on a Monday in 1993 I looked at my diary. Fresh from four years as minister of agriculture, I knew that there was a two-day meeting of the European Council of Environment Ministers ahead, yet there seemed nothing in the diary. “Why,” I asked. “Oh,” said the civil servant, “the secretary of state doesn’t go to Brussels unless we have something to tell them to do.”

That changed there and then, and I sat at the council table the following Thursday. Facing the first controversial discussion, I asked my adviser what the Spanish position was. “Well,” came the reply, “we haven’t spoken to them since Christmas, so I’m not sure.” Similarly semi-detached attitudes were revealed throughout that first session.

It came as a real shock after my long period at Agriculture, where the UK had built a reputation for informed and committed negotiation. My predecessors there, Michael Jopling and John MacGregor, had built strong relationships with their fellow EU ministers. They trusted us and we trusted most of them. They knew that we would act consensually wherever possible, would try to understand their political drivers, and would be absolutely honest about our own political needs. As a result none of us lost a vote that really mattered – even when the logic was wholly against the British position.


One example suffices. In a single market, the UK’s refusal to allow the export of live horses for food was clearly illegal but politically essential. All the odds were stacked against us, Belgium was becoming increasingly insistent, and a vote was looming. We had one strong card: our relationships. We had helped others in parallel positions, helping to find ways for the EU to meet its common objectives while recognising national differences.

My very effective minister of state, David Curry, and I had formed friendships and we took trouble to maintain them. Many of our fellow ministers had come to Britain and stayed at our homes. Above all, we had never pretended. They all knew that if we said something was really important to the UK, we weren’t bluffing.

We were always communautaire – but in the national interest. When the relatively new French minister, a socialist, in a very restricted session, without his key advisers, had agreed to something that would have been very difficult for France, I slipped round the table and pointed the problem out. He was able to retrieve the situation, the council was saved interminable recriminations, and Britain had a firm friend. Working as a team, clearly putting our national interest first but ensuring we got the best out of the EU, meant that when it mattered we won. I don’t suggest that my counterparts ever really understood the peculiar British view that it’s all right to eat beef but not horse, but they accepted it was a political reality and knew the UK would help when they had to explain their own national singularities.

Mind you, you had to work at it. My first meeting of EU environment ministers was decidedly frosty, as I sought to defend the government’s support for Shell’s decision to dump the Brent Spar oil facility in the North Sea, to a council dominated by the leftwing Danish minister, Svend Auken. Lecturing them would have fitted the British stereotype but done us no favours. Listening, arguing, explaining and showing we believed in the system and wanted to learn as well as teach – that made all the difference.


I learned too that the Department of the Environment’s previous way of working in Europe was shared by other British government departments. Yet, once we got a more constructive attitude to prevail, we found we achieved a better result. And the success for Britain was manifest. The BSE crisis could have destroyed the British meat industry. In the event, solidarity won over the temptation for easy political wins from our continental competitors. They knew that they, too, could have problems that only solidarity and commitment to the science would solve. They knew, too, that in those circumstances we wouldn’t take advantage, although we’d fight our corner as toughly as any.

And active, supportive membership helped us win battles back at home. In 1993 we were still seen as the dirty man of Europe. We were fighting to keep universal landfill; we had sewage on our beaches; and our water quality left much to be desired. EU environment rules made us put all that right. We became leaders on environmental agriculture and on climate change, but we learned as well as led. We were not semi-detached but committed to the EU – the greatest peacetime project of our lives, which through arrogance and poisonous self-regard we now seek to undo.

John Gummer, Lord Deben, is a Conservative peer who served in John Major’s government as secretary of state for the environment between 1993 and 1997



The Columnists I Always Read

I want insight and humour. I read to be informed, entertained, and in the current madness, reminded that sanity is still out there.

I am repulsed by blowhards and fools.  There is too much choice if you want poor drag acts holding themselves as providing informed comment.

EuroComment’s Peter Ludlow gives a fly on the wall, blow by blow account of the meetings of the European Council. He writes with wit and masterful insight. My only regret, is that in only gets published 6-9 times a year.

The Financial Times – FT – gives me nearly all I need. It’s got two of the best columnists out there. Lucy Kellaway shoots down fools and ijiats.  Wolfgang Munchau provides a welcome non-Anglo-American perspective. I regret I am confined to a Anglo-American viewpoint.

Jennifer Rankin at the Guardian does a great job on reporting on the great British Brexit train wreck. One looks forward to her next tale of incompetence.

The Daily Telegraph’s Christopher Booker and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard seem like refugees from a bygone era when the Telegraph saw itself as a serious journal of record. Today, it seems sadly desperate to sell itself off to “friends of Nigel” and peddling there ever delusional vision of “Acorn tea and rat stew” paradise of Brexit Britain. I enjoy reading a different perspective than my own.

Brussels is well served by Politico. It has the freshest leaks – how many sanctioned is never clear – and has a stable of talented and insightful readers. Their reporting on negotiations is timely, accurate and well written.
On a weekly basis, I have a flashback and remind myself that excellent writing, civility, and free trade where once the order of the day. The Economist  provides an hour or two of welcome decency and fine writing.

Every Friday I catch up with Chemical Watch – for work-  and rediscover that complex subjects can be crafted into clear and plain writing in the hands of a talented writer.



David & Goliath – a guide for winning political campaigns

I just re-read Malcom Gladwell’s “David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.’

I think the David & Goliath story provides essential lessons in political campaigning.

I have pasted the scripture below.

A Political Campaigners Guidebook

Gladwell’s book is “about what happens when ordinary people confronts giants … powerful opponents of all kinds” and defeat them.

I’ve worked on campaigns when a less than a handful of dedicated men and women took on the politically powerful Blue Fin Tuna industry and won. I read with wry amusement the industry’s belief that they were taking on an army.

I’ve seen campaigns take on most powerful of vested interests challenge Governments and industry and force them to backtrack on entrenched decisions. For years I wondered how that earth-quake happened. And, years later I have spoken to the 1 individual behind it all who organised that change. He even wrote a book about it.

I’ve seen the most powerful, wealthy and politically connected interests get taken down by a seeming rag-bag coalition of interests. I think to this day they have now idea how it all happened.

Over time, I noticed a theme, and realised that Bible’s David & Goliath had taught me some powerful political campaigning lessons.


10 Lessons to Take Away

 I draw 10 lessons:

  1. Smarter technology wins
    Goliath was all tooled up, David had a stone and slingshot. David had the smart technology needed to  do the job and win. All too often, a simple tweet can win the day.
  2. Quick & responsive
    David was not part of Saul’s army. He heard Goliath’s challenge and took it. Waiting too long and reacting too late, or not at all, is too often a recipe for political disaster.
  3. Don’t play by the other sides rules
    If you think the other side are going to play by your rules, you are wrong.  You need to adapt your thinking to win. Most won’t and indeed can’t. A simple shepherd boy played by his rules and defeated the greatest warrior of his time.
  4. You don’t need an army, you need one (or a few) who can do what needs to be done
    A shepherd boy won, not an army. The greatest political campaign victories  I have seen have involved just a handful of men and women. The more people deciding things, the more ineffective things get.
  5. Committee meetings don’t help much
    The greatest of campaigning organisations have destroyed themselves by adopting a love affair for Committee meetings. Banish them. Have a war room and nothing else. If the War Room becomes a claustrophobic Committee meeting, shut it down.
  6. You just have to win once
    People seem to forget this. Victory is needed only once. It sets a trend which soon enough become the norm.
  7. Courage and action are vital
    David showed courage. He killed a lion to save a sheep. He went out and did what had to be done. I have seen colleagues go out and take on the mafia without fear. It’s what is needed. It is hard to find.
  8. Size does not matter
    A giant is easy to take down. They don’t think they are, but David knew better.
  9. Adapt quickly
    Too many NGOs have adopted the group think of management consultancies that they brought in to reform their operations.  I think this thinking  is crippling their effectiveness as campaigning organisations. It is leading to new campaigning NGOs to emerge, ones that adapt quickly, and win.  Organisations like Bloom in France,  do amazing things.
  10. Go all out to win
    David went out and won. He had supreme confidence. He just saw a giant with obvious vulnerabilities. It is possible to do.


Can Goliath Win?

Can Goliath win?  For a start, he could have used his shield when David cast his stone.

Is there a system to avoid the same fate as Goliath. I think there is, I have used it with some clients and they won.

But, the truth is too few will ever want to do what it takes to avoid Goliath’s fate. Like chemo, it is not easy to digest, but you are likely to come out the other side alive.


Samuel 1:17

1 Samuel 17New International Version (NIV)

David and Goliath

17 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.[a] He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels[b]; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels.[c] His shield bearer went ahead of him.

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. 14 David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.

16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.

17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah[d] of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance[e] from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”

26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”

28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with angerat him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before.31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescuedme from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath[f] and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.

54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.

55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?”

Abner replied, “As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.”

56 The king said, “Find out whose son this young man is.”

57 As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head.

58 “Whose son are you, young man?” Saul asked him.

David said, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.”



The EU’s Environment Agenda 2018

Yesterday, the Commission published their 2018 Work Programme.

I was anxious. I was at the airport when the proposals were adopted.  An airport departure gates is not the best place to digest a bulky set of new proposals. I need not have worried.

The Commission’s Work Programme for 2018 is a master-piece in brevity.  It looks like half through his mandate, President Juncker is shutting up shop. He has slashed the amount of proposals from the Commission by around 80% and delivered on 80% of his priorities. By the end of 2018 he’ll surely have hit 100%.

The Work programme is slim on the Environment  front. Reference is made to developing the battery infrastructure, evaluating the 2012 bio-economy strategy, including broadening the scope, but it is not developed.

The existing legislative programme continues and there were no repeals or withdrawals on the environment front. This means the circular economy package upgrading the following existing legislative updating continues:

  • Directive 2000/53/EC on end of-life vehicles
  • Directive 2006/66/EC on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators
  • Directive 2012/19/EU on waste electrical and electronic equipment
  • Directive 2008/98/EC on waste
  • Directive 1999/31/EC on the landfill of waste
  • Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste

From a 20 year historical perspective, the work load is emaciated.

Indeed, whether these proposals land up coming out the door is another thing. They’ll still have secure a positive impact assessment before the May 2018 deadline. After that, it appears people will have to wait until 2020 and a new Commission before anything new will  be tabled.

Recalling the lessons outlined by J.Kingdon (see here), my best advice is to start preparing now for the next Commission, with clear and persuasive briefings for any new legislation/measures you may want. They start work on 1 November 2019 so  you have the time to prepare. Indeed, as all outgoing Commission’s do, they will hand over a whole set of ideas for initiatives to the next Commission. Work on that will start the summer of 2018. Then Mr. Barnier and his new team can choose their new agenda.


2018 Work Programme

Item 1

  • Strategy on plastics use, reuse and recycling – non-legislative – end of Q4 2017
  • Proposal for a Regulation on Waste Water Reuse – legislative – end Q4 2017
  • REFIT Revision of the Drinking Water Directive – legislative – end Q4 2017
  • Monitoring framework for the Circular Economy – non legislative, Q4 2017
  • Communication to address legal, technical or practical bottlenecks at the interface of chemical, product and waste – non-legislative – Q4 2017

Item 2

  • Proposal for a Multi-annual Financial Framework beyond 2020 (Q2 2018) followed by proposals for the next generation of programmes and new own resources – legislative,  Q2 2018

Item 3

  • Reflection Paper ‘Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030’ on the follow-up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change –non-legislative Q2 -2018

I have listed the Commission’s finances (Item 2)  as this will be the biggest issue. The EU can no longer balance their books. They need to cut spending to deal with Brexit by 15% and to balance the books by 30%.  Tough decisions will need to be taken.


This light work load will have two obvious impacts:

First, MEPs will have a lot more time to review delegated legislative proposals.

Second,  Member States will introduce national measures in place and ignore the European order.