Since the European capital is a key decision-making centre that greatly influences German policy, the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW) has decided to extend its activities to the wider European level by opening a new office in Brussels. The new office will help the IW to broaden its reputation beyond Germany, to get in touch with other research institutions across the EU, and to contribute economic expertise to the European debates.
When you board the train in Cologne and ICE or Thalys services are running to schedule, Brussels is just two hours away. For the IW, this route is becoming an axis of knowledge exchange, putting itself in an interesting strategic position as a bridge between Berlin and Brussels.
In July, the IW will officially inaugurate its new office in Brussels. “We have first-mover advantage as we are the first German economic research institute here with a permanent representation,” says Sandra Parthie, Head of the new Brussels office. Parthie has previously worked as a lobbyist for the French energy company Alstom and as political advisor and head of office for a Member of the European Parliament. Thus, she knows how to connect the IW with the representatives in Brussels. The main goal is to establish the IW and its expertise with decision-makers in Brussels, as well as with international journalists, associations, and partners from business and the research community.
Brussels obviously is a crucial hub for political decision-making and for movers and shakers whose activities have significant consequences at the national level. Often, the key framework conditions of a legislative issue are agreed in Brussels long before the debate reaches national parliaments and politicians.
How important Brussels is for Germany can be seen in the number of Acts of Parliament: during the German 2009–2013 legislature, the German Bundestag passed 553 laws. According to the administration of the Bundestag, almost a third of these were initiated by decisions and laws at the EU level. Also, the number of representatives of interest groups, ranging from companies to NGOs, is enormous: in total, an estimated 20,000 lobbyists from more than 7,500 organisations are trying to influence policy-makers in Brussels. In comparison, only 2,248 lobby organisations were registered in Berlin in April 2015. Thus, in terms of political relevance, Brussels is clearly at least on a par with Berlin, not only for the IW.
The new Brussels office will focus its activities on four priority areas, aiming to increase the institute’s reputation and visibility among European stakeholders, and to add value to the debates. These areas are financial markets; energy, environment and infrastructure; structural change and digitisation; and competiveness and economic policies.
Of course, IW is not a total newcomer to the European scene. Last year, for example, it conducted a study on “Manufacturing in Europe” for BusinessEurope. Furthermore, researchers at IW are actively following topical debates, for example on trade agreements, economic governance or the financial market. But in order to be perceived as a relevant partner by companies, other think tanks, journalists and decision-makers, the IW has to be more thoroughly and structurally involved in the European debates. This includes becoming more experienced with EU tenders, participating in impact assessments and conducting studies for EU institutions.
Thus, the IW will reach out to other research institutes and think tanks in Brussels and elsewhere in the EU to become a useful partner for European research projects.