zondag 13 november 2011

How to write an EU Position Paper

How to write a Position Paper 

The position paper is the single most abused lobby instrument in Brussels. It is the most common tool used in the EU to make the position of your organization known with regards to a policy. Sadly, the last years position-papers have also had a negative effect on public affairs in Brussels. Firstly, public affairs amateurs use them too often and too one-dimensional. Indeed some people do nothing but write and send position-papers, thinking that this is what lobbying is all about. Secondly, it is not easy to write a good position paper. But instead of taking the time to make something worth reading, a lot of organizations copy paste entire strategies in position-papers, resulting in too long papers that no-one reads. This is a fair warning; don't write position papers just so you to feel good about yourself because you actually did something. Now thT we have that out of the way, lets see what makes a good position-paper? It needs to be;

  • Short
  • Easy to read
  • Informative and Anecdotal
  • Useful

Be an instant hero: Keep it short

Throughout this book, the word short will appear and reappear. It is the single most important advice I can give; Keep it short. Brussels is a place of abundance; there are a lot of restaurants, bars, cars, spa’s. The only thing which is in constant scarcity is time. Keeping it short will make you instantly liked. Your position paper should ideally be 1 or 2 pages. There are good position papers of 4 to 6 pages, but they really need to be gems containing great wisdom and sound advice. I have written a great number of position papers and I have ventured always to make them two pages. The best way to shorten your position paper is read it several times and delete any sentence that does not add any value to the message. Be utmost critical about each sentence. If you are working with more partners (organizations) on a position paper, make sure that everybody agrees that the mission is to make an attractive paper, and not to give stage to individual organizations to window-dress. Keep civil servants at bay when it comes to your paper, they tend to be afraid that something is left out resulting in whole strategies and policy-papers being copy-pasted into the document. Another good way to keep your paper short is by introducing the add-delete rule. Every time you (or someone else) add a sentence to a position paper, one sentence needs to be deleted.

Easy to Read-Structure and content of your position paper

Your position paper should be easy to read. As a general rule, it should have a clear and coherent structure. In position papers that I use in Brussels, I normally use the following order;

  1. Thanking the policymakers
  2. Stating your position
  3. Stating your arguments
  4. Provide an alternative
  5. Closing

Thanking the policymakers

I always start with thanking the policymaker for the opportunity to give input, or by commending them on the work they do on a specific policy issue. This is a big difference between lobbying in the national capitals or the U.S; In Brussels we are friendly. Unless you have a farmers lobby and you have the power to steamroll Brussels with thousands of tractors, I recommend you always strike a friendly albeit urgent tone in your position papers. You might reach newspapers with an angry tone, but that is all you will accomplish. The character trait of all successful lobbyist in Brussels is that they have a constructive approach when dealing with policymakers. They are always greeted in the offices of policymakers as welcome guests. This not only secures access, prevents damaged relationships, but also leaves the door open for future issues. So when in Rome, be like the Romans, when in Brussels, be friendly.

Stating your position
After you thanked the policymaker, the paper states the position in the most clear, unambiguous way, e.g “We are against the regulation of homemade jam”. Or; “we are for the introduction a European wide ban on animal-testing”. The position should leave no room for doubts on the position of your organisation on a certain issue.

Stating your arguments
Thirdly, a paragraph should be devoted to stating the arguments that underpin your position. Make sure you don’t exaggerate the facts or even worse lie. Your arguments should be based on sounds facts and figures. This does not mean that your arguments can’t be biased or coloured (after all, what information is not biased), but simply don’t do anything that undermines your credentials. If a politicians finds out your information is dodgy, he will stop using it in his daily work.

Provide an alternative.
This is typically a European element in lobbying. You should always provide alternative solutions that are also implementable and supported by a broad range of actors. Not only does this divert from the original plans of policymakers, but it also makes the lobbying process more manageable. After all, it is easier to work with an alternative that you propose or support.

Finally, close the position paper in a orderly manner, meaning that you don’t leave any open endings or untied knots. Except if you finish with a question which can sometimes serve as a powerful closing statement; “After all is food safety not a top-priority of the European Commission?” “Isn’t the European Commission committed to eradicating poverty in the world?” I personally like to end my position papers by summarizing the advices with numbered bulletpoints. At the top of the bulletpoints I put the header; 5 Recommendations to the European Commission.” This tends to stick and is easy to use as a reference.

Informative and Anecdotal

Make sure your position paper encompasses statements, figures and statistics which will help the policymaker in his discussions with his peers. This is not to say that your document should be full of nitty gritty numbers and graphs, but it should hold a couple of key elements which supports your case, and moreover can be used in a anecdotal fashion by the policymaker; 50 % of Serbian youth has never travelled out of the country”, “one in three car accidents involved alcohol.”


This sounds like a no-brainer but I think most of the position papers are actually not very useful. They hold information with no direct relevance to the issue and serve as window-dressing for either organizations or worse, for individual politicians and civil servants. Make sure that all the information of the position paper is useful, and has real added value in relation to what the policy paper is concerned with. Just as important is timing. You might send a position paper as a reaction to an on-going consultation, but in all other cases make sure the position paper arrives when it is needed most. For example when dealing with a member of parliament, you must make sure he gets the relevant information when a certain item is on the agenda within his committee, or during question hour with a Commissionaire or Minister. Don’t be afraid to remind them when they can use this; “In two weeks you will meet the state secretary……, feel free to use this document in your discussions”. Do not send position papers if you do not know when and how it might be used, you might as well throw your position paper in a bottomless well.

  • 1. Position papers are used too often en too one dimensiol, make sure you write and send one when you have a clear goal in mind, and the time and resources to guard the quality of the paper.
  • 2. A position paper needs to be short, easy to read, informative, anecdotal and last but not least usefull.
  • 3. Make sure your paper has a clear structure. One example is; thanking the policy makers, stating your position, use your arguments, provide a alternative and close.
  • 4. Write your paper so it can be easy copy-pasted.
  • 5. Make sure you deliver your positionpaper at a moment that it can be used.

1 opmerking:

  1. Yes agree with your suggestion about if anyone is going to write position paper so it should be short length, easy to read and informative as well.

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