From Leiden to Brussels via Surinam

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Series Details 18.10.07
Publication Date 18/10/2007
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The chances and twists of fate that brought Rogier Chorus to Brussels are a reminder that making one’s career out of the European Union is still a fairly recent phenomenon.

Born in August 1943 in the Netherlands, Chorus studied law at the University of Leiden, one of his country’s most prestigious seats of learning.

At that stage, he was destined for a career in law, but first he went on military service, which took him to the then Dutch colony of Surinam. Bitten by this taste of overseas, Chorus found the prospect of a legal career too domestic and provincial.

"I wanted to go abroad again," he says, so he opted to go into banking. In 1970 he joined what was then ABN bank (now part of ABN AMRO, being rolled up into the Royal Bank of Scotland). Dutch colonial and mercantile history had bequeathed to ABN a network in the Far East and Latin America.

But Chorus’s international ambitions were toned down by marriage: he was less keen to travel so far and looked for opportunities in France or the UK. When they did not materialise, he got itchy feet after five years and left ABN for the Dutch finance ministry. He was in the department of international finance, working mainly on reinsurance of export credits. Since this was the late 1970s, he was also involved in the talks by the Paris Club to reschedule international debt.

After five years, Chorus switched employer again. He was frustrated by the hierarchy of civil service life, so approached NCW, the Dutch employers’ organisation, where he was made director for international relations.

It was a job he did for ten years. He was based then in The Hague, but came frequently to Brussels either for meetings at the European federation of employers’ organisations, then called Unice, now BusinessEurope, of which NCW is a member, or for meetings with the Commission. In those days, he recalls, the Parliament did not have much impact and was not paid so much attention.

When he began at NCW in 1980, his three main priorities were international trade policy, export promotion and the European Community, in that order. By 1990, the European Community had become the first priority. It was the push to create a single market that transformed his working life. He was, he says, one of the first in the Netherlands to read through the white paper that Francis Cockfield, the then European Commission vice-president, produced and to realise the implications of a border-free Europe for Dutch industry. He acquired, he admits, "a certain publicity" from touring the Netherlands explaining what was about to happen. He found more and more consultants were beating a path to his door to pick his brains about what was going on in Brussels and Strasbourg. At the end of the 1980s, in the run up to what became the Maastricht treaty, Chorus was briefed on a vacancy at the ceramics industry.

It came at a time when he could see influence shifting from national capitals to the centre. He took the plunge and moved to Brussels in 1990 to head up the European liaison office of the ceramics industry, Cerame-Unie.

"I thought, ‘it is better to be a king in a sectoral organisation than a minor duke in some vast organisation’."

Nominally, he has been in the same job ever since, but the substance of the job has changed. Cerame-Unie expanded so that whereas when he started it included four product groups, now there are seven: porcelain, bricks and roof tiles, wall and floortiles, tableware, sanitary ware, clay-pipes, refractories.

At the same time, the European Union’s agenda has expanded. The European emissions trading scheme (ETS), for example, has become an issue for the ceramics industry, which is now lobbying for a de minimis threshold to exempt smaller users of energy. "We produce less than 1% of emissions of carbon dioxides but we have 10% of the installations covered by the ETS," says Chorus.

The definition of ceramics producers coming under the scope of the 1996 directive on industrial pollution prevention and control (IPPC), included a threshold of product capacity and kiln capacity. Now the definition has been picked up for the purposes of the ETS, but the two tests are linked by an "or" rather than an "and". On such differences are lobbying campaigns won and lost - and Chorus is still fighting his corner.

  • Where to start:

When recruiting would-be lobbyists, Chorus would expect candidates to have done a traineeship, or stage, at the Commission or the Parliament or perhaps a stint as an MEP’s assistant. Language skills are important, particularly because of the need to communicate outside Brussels with member organisations. English and French are a minimum and German is needed for his particular organisation.

Starting salaries are about €2,500 a month before tax.

The chances and twists of fate that brought Rogier Chorus to Brussels are a reminder that making one’s career out of the European Union is still a fairly recent phenomenon.

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