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Everything to play for

At EVCA's annual symposium in Madrid, the stage was set for a battle in Brussels as MEPs weigh two potentially damaging draft reports on private equity, writes Nicholas Lockley.

“I have rarely seen such an ideologically tilted draft report for a chamber that depends on consensus,” so says Javier Echarri, secretary general of EVCA, the European private equity industry's trade association.

Fortunately, he was not the only person in Brussels to be flabbergasted by the former Danish premier Poul Rasmussen's draft report,  to the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.

The Dane is now faced with an almost unprecedented 211 amendments to his document from liberals and conservatives alike, who are trying now to build consensus before the draft takes its final form before Parliament.

Echarri says: “Rasmussen has gone way beyond. It is very rare to have this many amendments.”

But Echarri is quietly confident good sense will prevail. “We have worked ceaselessly behind the scenes enagaging with individual parliamentarians explaining the consequences of each decision and giving supporting evidence.”

“We have done the work of spelling out what was between the lines of the report.”

Echarri believes the report will ultimately go before parliament without a specific proposal targeting private equity but rather a wider proposal to examine Europe's financial services industry.

Another report, on the transparency of institutional investors by German MEP Klaus-Heiner Lehne, is thought to be couched in vaguer language, making it “more dangerous”, according to someone close to the issues, as it is likely to win the support of German MEPs and could get the necessary votes.

It is here Echarri and his team, emboldened by the incoming chair 3i's Jonathan Russell, must turn their attention. Russell told delegates in Madrid: “EVCA has been working in Brussels for 25 years now. It has put down roots there. It has influence, respect and excellent connections. If anyone can get the new Parliament and Commission – both coming in 2009 – to see through all the myths and misinformation and to project the truth about private equity, it’s EVCA.”

Echarri knows full well the consequences of not steering the reports to the industry's benefit. A new Parliament in 2009 would be most likely to enact the recommendations of its predecessor.

And a fresh Commission would in turn be most unlilkely to reject the will of Parliament. The window for EVCA to make its case therefore is now before the outgoing parliament sets the reports in stone. The MEPs are negotiating Rasmussen now. Lehne's report is next.

For Echarri and his team it is going to be a long hot summer with little time for the beach I am afraid.