Is there an unwritten directive requiring the European Commission to support the Dutch royal family? Perhaps it is Brussels’ recompense for throwing the Oranges out of Belgium in 1830.

Neelie “no pussycat” Kroes, the competition commissioner, has just taken on Jaime Bourbon de Parme, nephew of Queen Beatrix, as her personal assistant.

Beatrix’s son, Constantijn van Oranje, worked for ex-Dutch commissioner Hans van den Broek in the 1990s. He now runs a consultancy in Brussels.

Bourbon is a career diplomat (perhaps even a born one given the family history) who was, Observer understands, on a shortlist of one provided by The Hague to Kroes to replace Hans Kribbe, who has joined lobbyists G-Plus. Conveniently, his dad Carlos Bourbon de Parme, who briefly claimed the Spanish throne in the 1960s, lives in Brussels.

“He has been posted here by the Dutch foreign ministry,” says Observer’s man at court, though Kroes’s aides say she chose him.

Ben Smulders, her chief of staff, says Bourbon brings vital diplomatic experience. He has spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, so he should be handy at fending off attacks in the bureaucratic jungle, particularly from Günter Verheugen, the über-
competitive competitiveness commissioner, who likes to blunt Neelie’s claws.

It is usual for a Dutch royal to work for a living. “From what I hear, he is very down-to-earth and unpretentious, like most of them,” says Observer’s palace flunkey.

He might find life at the court of Queen Neelie a bit different, then.

No summer Kroes

He’ll certainly find plenty of work there. Neelie on Thursday dug her claws into holidaying European workers.

“We can’t permit in Europe a situation where for three months in the summertime we don’t function because of the summer holidays,” she said at the European parliament, in one of its brief sessions.

“The serious economic situation in Europe really pushes us to do better.

“Everybody needs holidays but we can spread it.”

Perhaps the workaholic can set an example by working in August, when the Commission itself shuts down, and grabbing a few days off at the Dutch seaside in November instead.

Though she did take a few weeks off in August, she was available to take time-sensitive decisions, sniffed a spokesman. “She does a lot of work from home,” he said.

With such a work rate, no wonder she managed to sit on 11 company boards at the same time before joining the Commission.

Free competition

Strictly speaking of course, such matters are for the competitiveness commissioner, not competition.

And it would be hard for Kroes to best her old rival Verheugen, who
spent the summer working from his house in Cologne and even came
into the office for a few days.

Verheugen is also under attack from the left, as Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, on Thursday gave a speech entitled “sustainable development and competitiveness”.

The competition within the Commission at least is intense.

Arsène at Arcelor

Philippe Varin, chief executive of Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus, could do worse than follow the lead of his fellow Frenchman Guy Dollé and book Arsène Wenger for a pep talk while the Arsenal manager’s reputation is still high.

Dollé, football-loving head of the Luxembourg-based steelmaker Arcelor, keeps four footballs on display in his office. He hired Wenger to talk to senior managers at his company at a big steel works in Ghent.

In spite of the somewhat unlikely setting, the urbane Wenger – who spoke to the attending steel chiefs in English – went down a dream. “He was fantastic,” gushed one Arcelor executive, who is not even an Arsenal supporter.

Dollé’s traditional allegiance is to AS Nancy, currently mid-table in France’s Ligue 1, but his favourite player is Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, another Frenchman.

Varin is a confidant of Dollé, who has more experience than him of the steel industry and has given the Corus boss a few tips in the past.

While Varin professes not to be a fan of football, his top players have not completely recovered from the cultural fallout of a difficult merger in 1999, which left the UK and Dutch parts of Corus at loggerheads.

They could do with a few ideas from Wenger about how to function as a team...

Inside out

While Dutch royals move to Brussels, many other eurocrats there seem to want to leave.

Observer hears that a recent internal Commission advertisement for 25 people to go to its offices in the 25 member states attracted 400 applications. “Maybe we should be moving them all out of Brussels,” joked one eurocrat.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

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