Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Spring in Brussels

Yesterday, I attended the EU hearing on FATCA, on behalf of AARO, in Brussels, with Victoria Ferauge, B.J., and M.E. Apologies for not letting Brussels friends know that I was coming. I didn't know, either, until late last week and once it was decided I'd go, I knew that it would be a packed day with no time to meet up or call.

First of all, you can also read about our day from Victoria's perspective on her blog, The Franco-American Flophouse. I really recommend her blog for the variety and interest of her subjects and her excellent writing.

Victoria and I were both traveling from Paris to Brussels and I managed to get on the same train and into the same car, so we sat together and got better acquainted. We'd already met once last year at the library. I'm always amazed at how little time it takes -- less than an hour and a half. I had a scare on my way to the station, though; the RER A was having one of those days of slowly limping from station to station and then sitting in the stations for a while. I was afraid I'd be late. But I wasn't and we had a good trip.

We got to Brussels, hopped into a cab and were delivered to the restaurant, where one of our little group was already waiting for us. He's also a dual national, living in Scandinavia. Surprise! The weather report for Paris was for more cold and rain and we are so used to that now that the sun and warm temperatures were almost a shock. We ate outside on the terrace! And we ate well, in case you're interested: Pasticcio.

The EU hearing on FATCA was scheduled for 3:30, so we had plenty of time. The Altiero Spinelli building is imposing, modern and the plaza in front of it is hosting a beautiful photo exhibit. What on earth inspired us to scout the area and find out if there was any particular procedure to get in? I have no idea, but we were well-inspired. It turns out that a meeting open to the public does not mean that J. Q. Public can just go in and sit down. You need an escort to get into the building. And we discovered that wifi access was not as easy to find as we thought. M. found the phone number of the MEP Victoria had been in contact with, Sophie in't Veld, MEP from the Netherlands. My phone to make the call and Victoria, as the one who had been the contact person, speaking, we got through to Emily, who immediately called us back to tell us to meet her at the entrance. I imagine we were interrupting her work, but if we were, she did not show it. She and another staffer, Thomas, took us to the registration office, got us our badges, and escorted us into the building and all the way to the meeting room in the most friendly and welcoming way. If you are reading this, Emily and Thomas, you should know how your taking care of us made us feel so welcome. Thank you.

So pampered, we were there early enough to choose our seats. There are only about 20 "public" seats in the room and once the meeting started, it was S.R.O. The official attendees straggled in, but Sophie in't Veld was early enough for us to be able to introduce ourselves to her and chat. Lucy Laederich, president of AARO and US Liaison for FAWCO, had sent her a letter earlier and although there will be more in our report, I can say here, that in the hearing, it was obvious that she took it to heart.

B.J. arrived a little later. She had been delayed by the procedure to get in. I have since learned that another AARO member came, but was not able to get in. If only we'd known that he was coming, we could have gotten him in with us.

The hearing was streamed on the Internet and, from comments, it looks like it was OK. I think this is it - it seems I don't have the proper extension on my browser to watch. Here's a briefing describing what's going on, so far concerning the US and the EU on the FATCA front.

After the hearing, in the hall outside the meeting room, we more or less ran into some of the participants at the meeting and were able to chat with them. This was exciting because they were truly interested in learning how EU citizens, not just banking institutions, were being affected, because of their dual nationalities or partnerships with Americans. There is a real problem of discrimination that they had no idea of. They also gave us good tips to contact other important MEPs and EU commissions.

We had time for a short, informal debriefing around a beer or a coke and walked a bit before catching a cab back to the station. It was a good thing we had our jackets, because the bad weather did come to Belgium, although we did not get rained on too much. On the ride back to Paris, we learned that the wifi access on the train is not all it's cranked up to be.


Curtis Poe said...

I wish I could have been at that meeting. Thank you very much for going and trying to spread the word about the unintended consequences of FATCA.

Tim said...

A YouTube version of the hearing should now be available here. Much better quality than on the EU Parliament's website.

Ellen said...

Thank you, Tim!

Just me said...

Thanks Ellen for all the effort and reporting you have put into this.

I have posted some transcripts of the comments made by Mr Starks of the U.S. Treasury over here...

Also here are some direct links to that Youtube video

Starks Part I

Starks Part II

Sophie Part I

Sophie Part II

I really recommend that folks watch the entire thing as there were some other interesting comments and questions. These guys (FATCAnatics) are really determined to create a global GATCA without regard to negative impacts on world economy and the strictures it will place on capital markets, or so it seems to me.

Ellen said...

The youtube link is not entirely in English! Do not let that dissuade you, it goes back to English in a few minutes.
Sophie in 't Veld's intervention starts at 39 minutes.

Clark said...

Thanks to both Victoria and Ellen for representing Americans overseas at this important meeting. As a proud, longtime member of AARO and 12-year French resident, it gives me great comfort to read your blogs and see that someone "has our back" in this issue.

Anonymous said...

I called it up on YouTube and it was sandwiched between two (of the same) porn clips. I've seen them pop up before on YT so I guess everyone won't see the same thing. Just a warning.....

Ellen said...

That doesn't happen when I do it. I've embedded the videos on today's blog post and they show up fine when I look at the blog. Let me know if there are any other problems. I am very sorry if this kind of thing gets spammed.