30 November 2023

Comment: Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven?

“Do I look like I live in hell?” the EFRAG TEG member burst out loud while walking into the room of EFRAG’s annual conference in Brussels on Tuesday (28 November).

The TEG member was of course referring to an article published, rather with a suspicious timing, the night before.

Another TEG member asked: “What is hell? Have you seen how they work in investment banking? What is hell?”

Right now, hell is two coffee machines for a conference of hundreds of people, I said as one of the coffee machines broke down and the queue of caffeine addicts grew while not moving.

And that is all we will say about this old, well-known story. We’ll focus instead on the conference.

Which, besides the coffee situation, was rather pleasant and, if anything, a bit disappointing.

A number of us were waiting for the panel with the ‘Big 3’ (EFRAG, GRI, ISSB), remembering it as the highlight of last year’s conference.

In a recent interview with Corporate Disclosures, GRI chief executive Eelco van der Enden noted that perhaps many didn’t think it was possible for the three organisations to collaborate to the extent that they have.

Yet whoever attended last year’s EFRAG annual meeting would have been seldom surprised. “It was interesting to see how well they get on,” an attendee told Corporate Disclosures at the time.

But this year, there wasn’t any panel, instead each got a 10min slot for a speech.

“This year is a bit too political,” a corporate said. “Last year was more down to human level, you could hear in the silences and see in the body language what was going on, but today we just had polished political messages.”

Yet the day wasn’t without its fair share of humour. Starting with Pascal Durand, MEP, who launched his speech, in reference to next year’s European parliament election, by saying: “Don’t worry Emmanuel [Faber], I won’t be here next year.”

Later, Faber said in his speech: “Yes Pascal [Durand], financial materiality is not everything – but it is important”.

Which was heavily commented on at the coffee break. “He keeps contradicting himself, one week he tells us double materiality is useless, the other financial materiality is not everything,” one delegate said.  

Another argued that Faber’s comment piece on double materiality in the French media had been misunderstood and lamented the fact that “he could have taken this opportunity to elaborate further, this was the perfect platform”.

The day wasn’t all dry speeches however, and the audience had some body language to read. In particular when Luc Vansteenkiste, EFRAG SRB member and chair of EuropeanIssuers, suggested that the move from limited to reasonable assurance should be left to the discretion of the corporates, which prompted fellow panellist Sebastien Godinot, economist at WWF and member of the EFRAG administrative board, to laugh, which some read as “despair”.

SMEs would have been satisfied, they often regret not being represented enough but an entire panel was dedicated to them. Of course, it coincided with the EFRAG SRB vote on the ESRS for SMEs the next day.

If anyone was missing it was civil society, which was hardly represented on panels or, it seemed, in the room. At the end of the day, between the glasses of bubbly, a TEG member replied: “yes it’s something we – EFRAG – are aware of, and that needs to be corrected.”

So see you next year with more panels, less speeches, and broader representation – for the hell of it!