The Association of European Business (AEB) is probably the best-organised business association we have, and organises interesting high-level meetings on a regular basis that many of us rely on as a source of essential information. In this interview, Dr Frank Schauff, the AEBâs CEO briefly describes the Associationâs history, function and the importance of Europe and Europeans in Russia.
What is the history of the AEB?
The Association of European businesses was founded in 1995, nearly 20 years ago now, which is already quite a long time for an association within the rather fluid Russian framework. When it was formed it was called the European Business Club, and I gather it was a more informal structure in those days. About 10 years ago, after a little bit of a crisis in the organisation, it was rebranded into the Association of European Businesses.
When were you appointed CEO?
What is the function of the AEB now in Russia?
At the end of 2013, about 50% of Russiaâs foreign trade was with European countries, and over 50% of foreign investment came from European sources, so the AEB represents the strongest consolidated group of foreign investors in Russia. We represent a wide portfolio of sectors, including â naturally â the energy sector. All of Europeâs main energy businesses are members. We have strong banking and taxation committees, but perhaps the most visible committee is the car manufacturing committee, which is basically all the main foreign car manufacturers besides the Chinese; including American, Japanese and Korean manufacturers. New committees are being formed in line with the market. For example, we recently started a working group dedicated to heating systems, as we have a number of international companies that are active in this industry, and they have decided to come together under the aegis of the AEB to organise their lobbying activities with regards to legislative regulations and other issues.
Our main activities are lobbying the interests of our members to the various departments of the Russian government, which we work in close cooperation with. We are constantly writing letters to the government about various issues on behalf of our members, and high-ranking government officials attend our meetings, which is something we appreciate, as we are thus able to convey the position of western manufacturers to the Russian government. Good recent examples are the talks given by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Head of the RF Federal Antimonopoly Service Igor Artemiev, and the Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneursâ Rights Protection Boris Titov.
How do the committees work?
We have about 40 committees working inside the Association, half of them are organised in a horizontal way that go across sectors. The committees are formed on the basis of common interests between players with other given industries.
The core function of the committees is lobbying. We invite governmental representatives, when it is appropriate, to discuss issues of concern with the relevant company or group of companies. Networking is also on going, not usually organised by the committees, but by the organisation as a whole. We hold various networking events in five star hotels, which are attended by hundreds of people, depending on the event. Three or four times a year, we organise receptions at various embassies called âEuroReceptionsâ. Recent receptions were held in the Polish or the German embassies.
How many companies now are involved with AEB?
At the end of 2013, we had 615 members. These are mostly large, European corporations, and we will remain at this level this year.
Do you have a tiered membership programme?
There is a differentiation between larger and smaller companies, regarding the membership fees. Numerous benefits of the AEB membership include: work and visa permits due to agreements between the Association of European Businesses and the Federal Migration Service of Russia, lobbying, interaction with Russian officials and ministries, participation in AEB events including high profile events as EuroReceptions, marketing opportunities, networking, provision of quality information, obtaining special rates for employeesâ voluntary medical insurance in the framework of the VMI Program, participation in the AEB Training Programs as well as an opportunity to participate in tenders to conduct corporate trainings.
Can individuals join the AEB?
Yes, if they are entrepreneurs. We are a business association. I do not want to be offensive, but John Harrison as a person cannot join, neither could I, as an individual.
Looking into the future, how do you see the AEB working in Russia?
I think that the activities of an organisation like the AEB could be become more important in difficult times. There is a heightened need to exchange views and information, and there is also a real need in regard to protection against what is happening internationally; specifically between what is happening between Russia and the European Union. We have seen some European companies joining which were not previously members. This shows that the structure of the AEB, as we also saw during the crisis of 2008 and 2009 is even more valuable in difficult times.
In your opinion are Europeans still needed and valued in Russia?
First of all I would like to point out that the majority of Russians have no doubt that Russia is a European country. Russia has a European culture, and ethnically speaking, most Russians are Europeans, and therefore the orientation towards Europe is a strong one, and will remain so. Therefore I think that in general terms, Europeans are welcome here even though relations between Russia and Europe are perhaps not so easy at the moment. Eventually we all have to find a way to get along in a peaceful manner; therefore I think Europeans and European companies will stay important here in Russia.
How long have you been living in Moscow?
I have been living here since 2007. I visited the Soviet Union for the first time in 1987, when I went on a short tour of the country. I was a student in the State University of Volgograd in 1990/1991 on an exchange programme with the university of Cologne. Then in the mid 1990s, I lived in Moscow because I needed to have access to Russian archives to work on my Ph.D thesis. So I managed to get to know Moscow, and also St. Petersburg quite well. Then I worked in politics in Germany, before coming to work here.
How do you feel personally about Moscow?
Moscow is an interesting and dynamic city, but it is not an easy city in terms of its dimensions and traffic problems. Muscovites as in many major cities are sometimes a little bit rough, but I lived in Berlin before, so I am used to this.