Thursday, March 15, 2012
Israel hires lobbying firm to win MEPs' backing for trade deal
Israel has hired a top lobbying firm with the aim of persuading members of the European Parliament to approve an agreement on industrial trade.
Kreab Gavin Anderson won the lucrative contract with the Israeli government towards the end of 2011 but this has gone unreported until now.
Karl Isaksson, head of the firm’s Brussels office, confirmed to me that the contract has been signed. The contract, he said, is “mainly focused on a couple of trade agreements” between the EU and Israel.
He admitted that these accords include the protocol on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industry Products (ACAA), which was signed between the EU and Israel in 2010 but has encountered stiff resistance from left-leaning MEPs.
Despite its technical nature, ACAA is politically and economically significant. A report by the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission in 2009, stated that its entry into force would be the first step in Israel’s integration into the Union’s single market for goods and services. Under the agreement, checks on the quality of manufactured goods carried out by the Israeli authorities would have the same status as similar checks carried out by authorities within the EU. This should reduce the administrative hurdles that Israeli firms have to clear in order to sell goods in Europe.
Isaksson would not disclose the value of the contract. Last year, the website Ynet reported that the Israeli foreign ministry had earmarked $3.2 million per year for recruiting image consultants in Europe.
While only a fraction of that sum may be destined for bank accounts held by Kreab Gavin Anderson, the contract is undoubtedly sizeable. The latest declaration made by Kreab Gavin Anderson to a register of “interest representatives” active in Brussels says that work related to EU affairs brought it €3.4 million ($4.4 million) during the 2010 financial year.
Reliable sources have told me that Israeli diplomats had meetings with a number of lobbying firms in Brussels before opting for Kreab Gavin Anderson. Well-connected politically, this firm boasted Carl Bildt as a chairman before he became Sweden’s foreign minister. Its Brussels team includes a former MEP Karin Riss-Jørgensen and a former high-ranking EU trade official Mogens Peter Carl.
While Israel has been eager to divert attention from its crimes against humanity for a number of years, Isaksson said that his firm will not be seeking to improve Israel’s image among the general public. “We have been hired to work on very specific objectives, to get these agreements through. This is quite similar to lots of other work we do for our clients. The broader reputational matters are not really our thing to do.”
He then appeared to contradict himself when I asked him if Kreab Gavin Anderson had assessed Israel’s human rights record before agreeing to sign the contract. “Of course, we consider the threats and opportunities that all clients bring in. But we decided that in the zone of public opinion, we wanted to help Israel.”
The best way to prevent backroom deals between Israel and the EU is to increase public opposition to them. Palestine solidarity activists in a number of EU countries have already been campaigning against ACAA. Hopefully, they will redouble their efforts in the months to come.
●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 14 March 2012.