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Lobbying in the EU Bubble

Keeping clients in the loop

What I like about being as consultant is that we act as intermediary between the European institutions and our large range of clients, should they be an insurance company, a trade association or a human rights NGO. We provide them with all relevant pieces of legislation introduced at EU level as well as of what will be on the agenda in the coming months. Thanks to our expertise in EU affairs, we are able to translate policy issues and the EU technical jargon into a comprehensible language for clients. Finally, we predict the consequences of current and coming policies on a specific field and advice our clients on how to (re)act.

A valuable source of information for lawmakers

The other side of the coin. When I was working in the “inside”, in the European Parliament, I learnt that lobbyists are actually beneficial to the legislative process. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have a very busy schedule. Often, they are not expert in the dossiers they are following and some of them even have never worked on the issues in their portfolio before. Lobbyists can serve as a valuable source of information for lawmakers as they concretely explain what could be the consequences of a pending EU legislation on a specific sector, consequences that policy-makers should foresee when drafting or amending a legislation.

Knowing that more than 80% of legislation directly affecting European citizens and businesses comes from Brussels, being up-to-date on EU legislation and represented in the bubble can have a significant impact on an organization!

European Association Management: European politics at its best

Why influence European policy?

European policy makers aim to make policy that stimulates economic growth and jobs by opening up the European market to as many European entrepreneurs as possible. This means that European policy essentially aims at helping entrepreneurs with going cross-border and providing them with tools to enter these new markets as easily as possible. The only way in which the legislators can shape such policy effectively is by input from – you guessed it – entrepreneurs themselves. A policy maker who has never run a business before prefers to hear from the businessmen and –women out there how European policy can best help them expand their enterprise. But how to gather input and advice from people who already have a 60-hour work week crammed with executing market strategies, operations management, sales targets and financial planning? How to influence European politics as an entrepreneur?

An association as intermediary

Just like not every European individual gets on the soapbox themselves but rather is represented through a politician, not every business in Europe has to delve into the Brussels’ web of policy influence on its own. European associations gather the interests of European businesses from one particular sector, and through representatives in Brussels convey these interests to the policy makers. At Dr2 consultants we are for example experienced in association management for sectors like the e-commerce sector and the healthy lifestyle sector. Running an association successfully means maintaining a strong connection with the daily experiences of the businesses represented, translating these issues into policy challenges (which often means not having more legislation at all), and – by being a reliable partner and having thorough knowledge of the process – finding solutions to these challenges together with the European policy makers.

Business minds think alike

Perhaps the hardest part for many associations is to keep a strong connection with the businesses they represent. For anyone who has ever visited Brussels for a stakeholder meeting or policy conference, it should be clear that in the ‘Brussels bubble’ the questions discussed become so abstract and bogged down by the issues of the day that the connection with ‘real life’ is easily lost. One of the strengths of our consultancy in association management is that we are entrepreneurs ourselves. We run a growing business every day and are therefore well aware of the challenges entrepreneurs face – be it constraints in resources, or administrative burdens. We understand the need to run an organisation effectively and efficiently. Moreover, we are able to translate policy issues in a language we all speak. In this way we ensure the business voice is represented in EU politics – in a business way. 

Four more years

Vier jaar geleden was ik direct na Obama’s overwinning bij het Witte Huis. Ongeveer 1500 mensen bleken spontaan datzelfde idee te hebben toen. Vandaag was ik weer in Washington DC en wederom liep ik direct na de herverkiezing van de president naar Pennsylvania Avenue 1600. Dit keer was de gekte nog groter: ik schat dat er in totaal zo’n 4000 mensen compleet uit hun dak gingen voor het Witte Huis. Er werd geschreeuwd, gezongen, wildvreemden vielen elkaar in de armen, veel mensen hadden posters, kartonnen Obama, Biden en Clinton cut-outs, spandoeken en andere Obama prullaria bij zich. Tientallen mensen waren in bomen geklommen die pal voor de hekken van het Witte Huis stonden en overal waren camera’s van televisieploegen te zien, die net als het publiek vanuit de hele wereld naar deze symbolische plaats waren afgereisd.

Het was vanavond vele malen spannender dan 2008, maar uiteindelijk niet onverwacht. Nog tijdens de verkiezingscampagne van 2008 (!) was al duidelijk dat Romney het in 2012 zou gaan proberen. Toen gokte ik al dat hij de voorverkiezing bij de Republikeinen zou winnen en dan tegen Obama zou moeten strijden. Mijn inschatting toen was dat hij dat dan niet zou kunnen winnen, omdat hij een flip-flopper is en weinig uitstraling en eigen verhaal heeft. In de peilingen kreeg ik voortdurend gelijk, maar het was toch echt close, onder andere dankzij de enorme hoeveelheid geld die de Republikeinen op wisten te halen, de hekel die Republikeinen aan Obama hebben, het goede optreden van Romney bij het eerste debat en zijn geschuif richting midden bij eigenlijk alle drie de debatten. Dat, en meer.

De grote vraag die veel mensen nu hebben is: zetten de Republikeinen nu nog meer de hakken in het zand? De inschatting van de Democratische strategen die we deze week in DC gesproken hebben is: nee, ze zullen nu meer toenadering zoeken. Het is voor de Republikeinse top in het congres namelijk ook lastig om overal maar nee tegen te zeggen.

Ook leuk: Obama hoeft niet langer verwachtingen te temperen. Hij ging in zijn overwinningsspeech dan ook meteen los met een Kennedy-geinspireerde quote: ‘America is not about what can be done for us, but what can be done by us.’ Obama 2012-2016: here we go!