Lobbying in Brussels: why and how?

Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, but also the heart of European democracy and lobbying. In fact, in an area of a few square kilometers, the Belgian city gathers the headquarters of the main EU institutions and dozens of other EU entities.

In recent years, the inherently global dimension of challenges such as climate change, digitalization or global health pandemics, requires an approach that goes beyond national borders. Consequently, political powers and competences are shifting from Member States towards the EU institutions. With legislation ranging from artificial intelligence to trade policy and energy taxation being proposed, discussed and approved in the EU institutions, the business operations and day-to-day activities of millions of European citizens and companies are increasingly turning around Brussels.

The EU powers have a strong impact on the laws and policies that determine business operations in a wide variety of sectors. That is why having a presence in Brussels is of growing importance in order to make sure your voice is heard when drafting future legislation. In this blog post, Dr2 Consultants outlines three key recommendations for effectively developing a successful lobby in Brussels.

How to lobby in Brussels: key recommendations

1. Matching your message with the EU narrative

Lobbying is the indispensable bridge linking a sector of the economy (industry, trade and many others) with EU stakeholders in Brussels. A good lobbyist provides technical expertise to EU legislators and regulators to demonstrate the impact of an anticipated legislative proposal, or provide arguments, facts & figures that can better match the legislative act with the specific industry interests. One of the best ways to achieve this goal is to submit positions to public consultations or set up meetings with EU stakeholders, but finding the loopholes in the EU procedures is essential to make sure you get your message across at the right time. In addition, a carefully crafted storyline and set of policy messages that match the EU narrative will make a difference.

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Dr2 Consultants has built up an extensive experience in designing storylines, crafting policy messages, that align with the EU public policy discourse, and helping its clients assert their position in the EU legislative process. Our international team constantly monitors political changes and advises a broad range of clients, from transport to sustainability and digital, in order to identify threats and opportunities in the draft EU legislation.

2. Building a network to access policymakers

Once the storyline and messages are developed, a point of access to EU policymakers has to be found in order to pass the message through. First of all, an effective lobby starts from a strong network in Brussels, both with policymakers, legislators and industry partners. Dr2 Consultants is expertly placed to set up the right connections and pave your way in the ‘EU bubble’.

Conveying your messages to EU stakeholders requires constant attention. For example, the inter-institutional trialogue negotiations are designed to speed-up the decision-making procedure and reconcile the positions of the European Parliament and Council of the EU. Although these informal negotiations are considered to be effective, they lack transparency as the negotiations take place behind closed doors. In these situations, it is of great value to have a strong network that can provide you with the latest intelligence or that will enable you to convey your message during crunch time.

Dr2 Consultants excels an outstanding network of policymakers and their offices, corporations and trade associations who acknowledge our expertise and are willing to provide us with behind-the-scenes intelligence. The mutual trust within our established network allows us to draw knowledge from different sources, enabling us to access the key players during the different phases of EU procedures.

3. Building coalitions

Another key element for a successful lobbying strategy in Brussels is having effective collaboration frameworks in place. Today, the Belgian capital crawls with associations, industry representatives and institutions that voice different needs and put forward various interests. A way to capitalize on this maze is to build coalitions and cooperate with other stakeholders on issues of common interest. Issue-driven policy actions often exert a higher leverage on policymakers and regulators due to the wide support they have on their back. Over the last years, Dr2 Consultants has built up a track record in surfing through the plethora of interest representatives and establishing the right coalitions.

EU institutions are keen on engaging with sector representatives and joint consortia that voice a single position stemming from different sector segments. If you want to successfully lobby on a legislative text in Brussels, you must be aware of which association/representative you can reach out to and what collaboration you can set up. Moreover, a constant contact with the constellation of networks will keep your organization be visible and up to speed with potential coalitions forming in Brussels.How to lobby in Brussels: key recommendations

Lobbying in Brussels made easy with the help of Dr2 Academy

Being proactive, timely and aware of what is needed to effectively influence policymaking is the key output of Dr2 Consultants’ training modules, which are embedded in the Dr2 Academy and aimed at empowering participants, spanning from local authorities to in-house and institutional representatives, with the right tools to carry out successful lobbying activities and advocacy strategies at EU and national level. Get in touch if you would like to know what we can do for your organization.

Would you like to influence EU legislation, attract EU funding, establish a network of key policymakers, or simply stay informed about the latest developments in your industry? Feel free to reach out and discuss opportunities over a (virtual) coffee.

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Transparency in the EU: a state of play

With approximately 30,000 lobbyists, Brussels is known as the world’s second lobbying capital, following Washington D.C. Even though the EU’s relatively small civil service is heavily dependent on the input of stakeholders, voices calling for more transparency have become stronger and stronger. Dr2 Academy explains the state of play of transparency in the EU.

Should transparency be an obligation?

Already since the European Commission’s 2016 proposal for an interinstitutional agreement on a mandatory Transparency Register, the different EU institutions have been debating the form of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ Transparency Register (hereafter: “the Register”). The Register, introduced in 2011, is a database that provides insights into all activities carried out by organizations with the intention of directly or indirectly influencing the decision-making processes of the EU and/or shaping the implementation of existing legislation. The Register has been set up to answer core questions such as what interests are being pursued, by whom and with what budget. The system is operated jointly by the European Parliament and the Commission.

In recent years, the European Parliament and Commission have tried to convince the Council of the EU to become more transparent by applying the Register. Currently, meetings with Commissioners, cabinet members or Commission officials at the helm of the Directorate-Generals need to be registered. In the European Parliament, the use of the Register has also become more of a common practice, in an effort by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to increase transparency towards their constituencies. Some MEPs make the presence in the Register a condition to accept meetings. The Council of the EU, however, has been lagging behind: most meetings still take place behind closed doors.

No registration, no meeting?

The most controversial issue in the negotiations is the principle of ‘no registration, no meeting’. This would mean organizations can no longer meet policymakers from the EU institutions if they are not in the Register. Following recent progress in the negotiations (which focused on additional clarity on the future purpose and scope for an enhanced Register), this conditionality will be further discussed in the coming months with all three institutions expressing their intention to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Furthermore, a revised Register is likely to include additional guidelines on virtual communication channels, as the nature of meeting policymakers changed significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent teleworking policies and travel restrictions.

In the meantime, the different political groups in the European Parliament are increasing their transparency efforts. In June 2020, transparency watchdog Transparency International launched a new feature on the EU Integrity Watch, in which it tracks lobby meetings with MEPs. This led to a total of 10,000 logged meetings by the end of September 2020, with the percentage of MEPs reporting their meetings increasing from 37% to 44%.  However, there are internal discrepancies in the consistent usage of the Register. Mainly Scandinavian and Western European countries, as well as the liberal and green political groups are most consistent in their logging of meetings. Pressure from civil society, therefore, seems to work, but an obligation would make these efforts redundant.

A mandatory Register and its implications for Public Affairs

A mandatory Register could relieve lobbying in the EU of its somewhat dubious reputation, as well as enhance citizens’ trust in EU decision-making. Even though it is still unclear what the exact scope of the future Register would be, it is apparent that organizations will have to become more transparent about their activities in Brussels – regardless whether this is due to intrinsic motivation, or due to (mandatory) external obligations.

Organizations engaging in EU Public Affairs should, therefore, consider transparency and ethical interactions with policymakers to be an integral part of their daily work.

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The Dr2 Academy offers a wide range of tailor-made services targeted to organizations and professionals active in public or private sectors and whose work is impacted by EU policies. To learn more, please visit our Dr2 Academy webpage.

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