zondag 2 december 2012

Specifics of EU Lobbying

Lobbying (or Public Affairs if you will)  in Brussels is in many respects very similar to lobbying in national or even regional power-centers. There is always the tension between the legislative and the executive, and the structures of power are disappointingly identical. Civil servants, parliamentarians, assistants, and of course... lobbyists make up the blood-types of any centre of power, whether in Brussels, Madrid or Dusseldorf. However there are a couple of characteristics which are unique to the European capital. While this list certainly isn't exhaustive, it gives an idea of the particularities of Brussels

In Brussels- everybody is nice to each other

Since the Commission is not elected by the Parliament, (but by the Council) there is nothing which could be called  opposition in the European Parliament. While in most capitals, the chief aim of the opposition  is to overthrow the government, in the European Parliament the aim is to cooperate together with the European Commission in order to exert as much influence. What's more, because there is neither a dominant force in Parliament, or in the other institutions anyone wanting to influence the policy process is forced to build alliances and work together. Hence, the reason that everyone is nice to each other.

In Brussels- learn how to be informal

If you would follow the formal policy process, you are missing out a lot. In some countries like the Netherlands it is forbidden for members of Parliament to talk to government civil servants. In Brussels however, everyone is talking to everyone; Literally. Commission civil servants talk to Members of Parliament, Lobbyists talk to Political Advisors and before you know it a document is leaked. Because of this open nature of policy making, key decisions are often made during lunch hours, instead during Committee debates. The plenary and committee debates often serve as a official round-up of all informal debates that have happened beforehand.

In Brussels- Media does not have the same role

The debate in Brussels is less politicized then in the capitals of Europe. The first reason was the aforementioned lack of opposition. There is no government to be overthrown so members of Parliament are not constantly appalled like in .... Lets say..... Westminster. Secondly, most of European legislation or policy is of a fairly technical or abstract nature. When the European Union voted to ban phosphor in household detergents, this had far reaching consequences for both the environment as well as producers. However it will be very difficult to make the evening news with this item. So the media in Brussels does not have the same vigilantly, scrutinizing, criticizing role as they have back home. Instead they are more something like translators, trying to translate what is going on in Brussels, to the relevance of their respective countries.

In Brussels-Policymaking takes years

Because of the far-reaching consequences of European policies, the European Commission is very careful when it proposes new legislation. First a great deal of effort and time is invested to consult stakeholders through greenbooks and other ways of consulting. A legislative procedure can take around 3 to 5 years. To be effective you need to have a strategic mind-set. Moreover you should have early warning mechanisms to "read the signs". Namely, a lot of policies start with some kind of abstract-European-Union-mumbo-jumbo (energy efficiency discussions), and end up with concrete proposals (ban the light-bulb from Europe). This multi-annual policymaking has big effects on the choices and decisions of us Public Affairs professionals. In the national capitals, the pace of policy is much faster, which sometimes obscures the bigger picture of politics.

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