Diplomatic channels in Brussels

April 30, 2004, 14:00 CEST

Deft diplomacy and an extensive network of contacts are vital to ensuring Hydro's voice is heard by EU policy makers in Brussels.

"With nearly 16,000 employees and some 70 percent of our assets and turnover, we are a major EU industrial actor," says Hydro Corporate EU Brussels office chief, Bjørn Tretvoll. "Our objective is to secure policies enabling us to continue our energy intensive industries across Europe."

Approximately 29,000 of Hydro's total 35,000 worldwide employees work either in the EU or European Economic Area (EEA) treaty countries, including Norway.

Hydro is the only remaining "purely" aluminium company in Europe and one of the EU's largest power consumers. Hydro Oil & Energy is a key supplier of oil and gas to the EU and has extensive energy trading activities in Brussels.

"We'll continue to be a major energy supplier to continental Europe and the UK for many years to come," Tretvoll says. "Norway has 50 percent of Europe's remaining oil reserves and 27 percent of its gas. In these times, when security of supply has become a crucial issue, it's important to work through the internal market framework."

The Hydro Corporate EU Brussels office team produces daily updates of EU-related news and issues on the internal Hydro EU portal.

Behind the scenes

Another, less trumpeted, facet of EU enlargement – but equally as important to Hydro – is enlargement of the EEA.

"The EEA is a treaty extending the European single market to non-EU members Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein," explains Hydro EU affairs manager, Marc Chasserot. Prior to May 1, 2004, the EEA counted 18 member states. Afterwards, it enlarges to 28 members (the existing EU 15, plus 10 new EU member states, and Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.

"The EEA is Hydro's home market and it is expanding to nearly 500 million consumers across 28 countries," he says. "Opportunities to sell our products and services will inevitably increase."

Federal EU

"Political and regulatory decision-making within Hydro's home market will increasingly be managed by the EU institutions," Chasserot comments.

"Already today, the EU deals with Hydro specific issues, namely, the liberalization of energy markets, promotion of renewable energy, climate change policy, trade, competition and taxation policy, waste prevention and recycling, to name but a few. Tomorrow, EU legislation will also cover issues such as, corporate governance standards, corporate social responsibility, the promotion of environmental technologies, and more."

The 10 new EU member states must now apply EU policies and legislation. That's not without problems.

"Key challenges will be the full integration and implementation of EU law into national law, which will require both public and private resources," Chasserot says. "Meeting social and environmental standards along with the development of infrastructure networks will require enormous investments – and presents opportunities to the industry. Bureaucratic inertia and over-stretched public administrations and judiciaries will also need to be overcome.

"If you have a conflict between a national and an EU law, then only apply the EU law," advises Chasserot. "The Commission is well aware of this pontential problem and will listen to Hydro and help us to solve any problems. All these changes will lead to a turbulent period of politics and policy making, but in the longer term the EU will emerge much stronger."