Lobbying – dubious profession, reserved to big companies, that’s the common perception. And indeed, big companies spend money on lobbying, and they employ people full-time to do this for them. But everyone of us should have a close enough eye at political developments that affect us directly, and know whom to contact when things get serious – in the positive or negative sense. And that’s why I’m writing this rather long blog today – a round-up of how EU lobbying works and how it can work for you.
Why? Because raising your voice does pay off, definitely at the European level.
An example: at the end of the nineties, the European standardisation body CEN/CENELEC was about to standardise noise emissions of sports boats. Who cares, you will think. Well, producers of sports boats definitely cared.
They cared so much that the bigger ones amongst them had managed to gain seats at the table of representatives, mandated by their national standardisation organisations, within CEN/CENELEC.
Which is perfectly legal and perfectly normal, but in this case, led to interesting ideas. The sports boats producers sought to make their very own noise emissions model the industry standard.
At the cost of all smaller sports boats producers. When the smaller ones caught on, they didn’t do much lobbying – but the right lobbying. They got in touch with the European Commission, and with some support of their association and of specialist media, the most painful part of the legislation was eliminated.
Eventually, a noise emissions scheme was introduced nobody was satisfied with. You can call that a lobbying success.
How did they do it, and what does that mean for you?
Setting up your own lobbying structure, even with as little resources as two hours and no money to spare per week, is easier than you may think. Of course, you can always develop more and more sophisticated structures, but let’s not overcomplicate things. Four simple steps will get you covered in the majority of cases:
- Set up an efficient monitoring
- Set yourself clear goals
- Develop a clear message
- Find allies
- Follow the legislative process
So how does that work in a simple matter?
Monitoring: How you find out where politics gets into your business
In order to monitor efficiently, you need to know what you are looking for: what is going on in the EU institutions (Parliament, Commission, Council), and in your sector (could be ICT, transport, FMCG or whatever). You also want to know what exactly is being discussed in your sector and might become a legislative initiative.
Now where do you find this stuff? Focus on five sources:
- National newspapers and online sources
- Some special EU news sources – for instance, Politico and Euractiv are very useful
- Social media – Twitter and increasingly FB: follow the EU correspondents of your leading national newspapers, and check out who they are following
Ok, you may say – but this really takes time. How do you read these sources quickly? It is straight-forward: anything that looks like it will affect you economically will also affect you politically, so be highly on alert! Don’t bother too much about the rest.
What else can you do? If you realise an issue is developing, you can rely on your association, and on the representation of your region in Brussels. Never heard of it? Just google, just about every European region is present in Brussels, and their purpose is to advocate the interests of their regional stakeholders, and to inform them.
Chances are of course, that they don’t want to talk to you. Don’t blame them, they are busy, and they may not know you yet. But do insist on information when you have very concrete questions. That’s what they are paid for.
There are more sources available of course, but these will suffice to not miss anything important.. Also, you don’t need to meticulously read all of them. Make a list of relevant key words to search for in the texts, and in the news section on Google. You can scale this up or down depending on your resources.
Caution: the more detailed you look, the more issues you will find. Concentrate on the most relevant ones, and decide according to your business plan whether you should scale it up.
Goals: How to set successful goals
Let’s face it – nobody will do anything for you just because you want it. It’s human nature – we don’t do anything if nothing is in it for us. Or very rarely. So in order to be successful, something must be in it for the other side.
Suppose you hear that the EU is planning to introduce a new levy on road usage. Suppose you are a road transport company with 3 lorries. Such a new law is clearly going to affect you. Easy, you don’t want the levy.
BUT if the levy only affects only giant megatrucks (which you do not have and do not want), it’s no problem for you. It could even be good.
Or if it is on personal cars, it may affect you as an individual, but not really as a business person.
You need a concrete goal.
You may already have heard of SMART goals? That’s what you need: it should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.
A smart goal is not: I don’t want a levy. A smart goal is: I want to achieve an exception for of 7.5 ton trucks from the directive xyz on a levy on EU roads. Within one month, I will have set up a position. Within two months, I will have contacted my association and my regional office, and with their help, I will have talked to 3 policymakers in charge of the dossier.
Your goals may or may not clash with what the legislator wants. You will only be successful if you know what legislators want and what you can offer them to reach their goals.
There are realistic and unrealistic goals. You will only find out by talking to people and monitoring. Don’t believe the first thing you hear, but be prepared to back down a little if evidence sharpens that you won’t get entirely what you want.
For example: you may find out in the example above that the levy will come, no way around it. A new goal could be – for the levy to come later, to be lower, to affect certain vehicles only.
Getting the message right
Now that you’ve got your goals, you need to frame them so they can be heard.
Ever had someone trying to sell you something by telling you what they wanted? Did that work? Probably not.
Same in politics.
Ask yourself what these politicians really want. And remember that they are different people, with different interests.
If you are talking to Commission officials, they generally need to gain an understanding of how their legislation will work. What will happen when implemented. Detailed technical information. Additionally, they need to develop something that works across the EU, and therefore makes them look more or less worth their money in 28 Member States.
Members of the European Parliament have different worries. They face elections every five years and need to ensure they are remembered for something in their Member States. They care about constituencies and about developing a political profile of value in their home countries. Once you get in touch with your ministries or their representatives in Brussels, these officials need to speak up for the interests of their member state, so they want to know what is at stake back home, and whether other Member States agree with them.
So what does that have to do with your message? Give and take! Yes, you don’t want the levy. But the EU doesn’t care if it’s only you. So you need to frame it according to the interests of your counterparts, and you need to deliver information that helps them do their job.
An additional aspect of lobbying at the European level is that you need to address the interests of 28 Member State representatives. That’s next to impossible if you are a small player active in only one of them. A European habit is to collect allies wherever possible – and so should you:
Check out who else is on your side
- talk to your association, push them to search for others
- talk to your peers, perhaps you sign a letter together or go to Brussels as a group?
- Think of unlikely allies: who else could have a similar interest than you? Contact them! The best way to reach out to them may be via their Brussels offices – they are usually more open to alliance-building and know English.
Process matters – understanding the game
None of the previous recommendations help if you get into the game too late. It’s all about process, because process tells you where the power is.
The EU’s legislative process is admittedly not so easy to understand. But I’ll break it down to the very basic essentials, and these can get you far already.
In the most part of all decision-making procedures, it’s the Commission in charge first, then the European Parliament, where a Parliamentary committee will come up with amendments to the Commission’s draft proposal.
Whatever passes the committee is put to vote in the European Parliament’s Plenary in the so-called First Reading.
Next, it’s the Council of Ministers’ turn. The ministers come up with a so-called common standpoint – either they agree with the European Parliament and the law is done, or they send their amendments back to the European Parliament.
They go through the same procedure again: Second Reading, Council can agree or disagree. Usually, we are done by now and the institutions have found a compromise.
If not, a conciliation committee tries their best, and then a law is agreed, or the initiative dies.
There’s a catch: more and more often, Parliament and Council try to come to a compromise BEFORE the 1st reading, by getting together in small, inter-institutional formations – the trilogue. It essentially means that the process is speedier and you or your lobbyists need to get in touch with all three institutions as soon as the relevant Parliamentary committee has voted.
This may sound confusing at first sight. However, as soon as you get into a regular routine, managing your political relations will become a habit just like your weekly exercise.
And even if you do not want to do it all by yourself, setting up a sound monitoring process and understanding how the process and lobbying works, will improve the quality of your work with public affairs consultants, your association or your inhouse office in Brussels immensely.
If you seek advice in these matters, be it building up your monitoring, your internal processes, your Public Affairs team – or a smart and cost-efficient way of outsourcing your Public Affairs worries: contact IMConsult for an in-depth discussion of what we can do for you.