Blog: Simon WarburtonCLEPA draws big hitters

Simon Warburton | 27 February 2013

To Brussels where the European automotive suppliers association - CLEPA - held its Annual Reception last night in the grand Concert Noble building a stone's throw from where I'm staying.

This is an event that attracts some serious big hitters - not the least of whom were not one but two European Union Commissioners in the shape of Trade and Climate Change and whose presence indicates the clout that CLEPA wields in the Belgian capital.

I interviewed CLEPA CEO, Jean-Marc Gales, as well as French supplier body, FIEV, president, Claude Cham. As a former Dunlop staffer, he had some interesting views on the somewhat trenchant opinions expressed by Titan CEO, Maurice Taylor last week, on the efficiency or otherwise of the French workforce.

There must have been good few hundred people at the event and as a networking opportunity, it's hard to beat, especially as CLEPA arranges the evening not as a formal dinner, but as a stand-up buffet, allowing everyone to mingle freely.

Afterwards, I managed to catch the end of the Barcelona-Real Madrid Copa del Rey game, which ended in a surprisingly comfortable win for Jose Mourinho's team and which was watched by a huge number of people in the establishment I found.

Asking directions to it was an interesting experience and indeed getting around what is currently a freezing and grey Brussels presents something of a linguistic challenge. If you can muster up a bit of French, that generally does the trick, but in almost all cases, the people I asked turned out not to be Belgian at all.

The polyglot nature of the city means almost everyone seems to be connected either with the European Commission itself or is based there because so many EC institutions are to be found in Brussels.

One lady sent me completely the wrong way and on seeing me trudge back, instead of whipping out an A to Z as I might in the UK, she flourished her iPAd and pointed me in the right direction. Such is progress I suppose.

I'm writing this now in the foyer of the IndustriALL pan-European trade union organisation, who I'm seeing shortly before heading off to ACEA to chew the fat on the state of the Continent's automotive market with its secretary general, Ivan Hodac.

I've just spoken to the ABVV trade union, who are in the middle of delicate negotiations with Ford of Europe surrounding its plans to shut the Genk plant with thousands of redundancies and have arranged to see them tomorrow in a break in their talks before heading back home via Manchester.

Just as an aside, I had my first look at the new Golf yesterday on display in the arrivals hall at Brussels Airport. As a driver of a somewhat ancient Golf myself, I was intrigued to see what VW had done with the new model and it looked very smart.

And talking of airports - Brussels has a huge number of - very good - travelators to whisk passengers around and given its vast distance you need them.

So why do some people get on the things and then grind to a halt? Bizarre.


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