Simon Godwin, Europe's advocate for US interests
It’s slightly odd that the voice of American business in Brussels, at least as far as environmental policy is concerned, should have an English accent and work for a company with deep German roots. Yet a logical sequence of events brought Simon Godwin of Daimler to chair the environment committee of the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union (Amcham EU), a position he took up in January.
Having completed a PhD in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London in 1998, and with an interest in the automotive industry, Germany beckoned. He joined the Mercedes car group in Stuttgart as a senior engineer, working on gasoline engines.
“I was working on emissions equipment and emissions testing, so that was my way into the environment sphere,” he explains. “My PhD was on emissions testing as well, so that was quite a smooth transition.”
He came to the company just as its parent, Daimler-Benz, was merging with Chrysler in the US, creating the trans-Atlantic giant DaimlerChrysler. Among his tasks in the merged company was to negotiate a new zero-emission vehicle strategy.
In the following decade he moved from the technological side of engine emissions, through product development to regulatory affairs. After three years in Washington, liaising with the US government over environmental policy, he came to Brussels in 2006 to play a similar role with the EU.
When DaimlerChrysler split in 2007, the Daimler group retained enough US interests to justify its continued presence in Amcham EU. “We are very much an American company, as well as having our roots in Germany,” says Dr Godwin.
Amcham EU has a membership of 140 companies of ‘American parentage’ who are active in the EU. Many are long-term investors in Europe, with manufacturing plants throughout the region. The issues it takes up are proposed by the membership. If five companies are concerned about an EU policy or legislation – and are willing to commit to producing an Amcham EU position – the process is launched.
“As long as there is sufficient commitment from the members, either on the committee in question or in partnership with other committees, then you have the potential for producing a position paper or an advocacy plan,” Dr Godwin explains.
Climate change is a particularly important theme at the moment, cutting across many of Amcham EU’s interest groups. On the purely environmental side, hot topics include the waste framework directive, regulations on waste from and hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, and the implementation of the Reach chemical regulation.
Looking forward, Dr Godwin expects his committee to take an interest in the forthcoming European commission proposal on sustainable production and consumption.
While the initiative lies with members, there is a high degree of coordination, with committee chairs liaising through a policy committee so that Amcham EU positions are coherent. For example, work on climate change draws together the committees looking after the environment, transport and energy, financial services and trade.
The involvement of the trade committee brings out one way in which the members’ American parentage is felt in Amcham EU positions. “One of our fundamentals is to foster international trade, and in the environment committee that can be just as important as when you are talking about a pure trade issue like Doha,” Dr Godwin says.
For example, Amcham EU is particularly concerned by the trade implications of emissions trading. It considers the costs a potential disadvantage for Europe-based companies.
A second area where Dr Godwin thinks the American parentage is felt is in Amcham EU’s advocacy, where possible, of market-based solutions. “I would say that’s a typically business position, but as American companies we are very much in a position to put that forward, because it sounds typically American.”
More generally he thinks Amcham EU is well placed to bring a global view to European policy discussions. “America is such a big player that it is obviously going to have influence in other parts of the world, just like the EU has influence in the US,” he says. “As American companies we are in a position to understand that very well, and to communicate our understanding of its consequences and how to develop policy further here in Europe.”
Relations with the EU institutions are good and Dr Godwin detects neither hostility nor indifference to the intervention of US interests. “I think policy makers are extremely interested that a body which has American parentage is so interested in EU affairs. They also recognise us as important companies.”
As a result, Dr Godwin thinks Amcham EU is influential, although its impact is not achieved in isolation. “The most important contribution we can make is to add our weight to the voice of business on all of these issues – on Reach, on waste, on climate change – because if a policy maker hears all of business pushing in the same direction, advocating a similar type of policy result, then we’ve done our job.”
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