The Guest Blog

The following article has been sent to Blogactiv by Stéphane Desselas, Managing Director of Athenora Consulting

The work of a lobbyist in Brussels today seems to be well marked out: working upstream with the Commission, submitting amendments to the Parliament, making contacts with the Permanent Representations and national administrations in the Council. For several years now their work with the European institutions has become more professional and their expertise will have developed. However, today they must confront new challenges resulting from the increasing complexity of decision-making structures, while at the same time transparency is on everyone’s minds.

A more professional lobbying

The career of a lobbyist is marked out by the way in which the market has become more professional. As such, at the Commission, professional lobbyists participate in consultations, are members of expert groups, work with desk officers on technical matters, taking political questions if necessary to the Director General or the cabinet of the Commissioner. In exchange for their expertise, lobbyists are informed about Commission projects and may therefore contribute to their execution.

In the Parliament, lobbyists work with rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs, providing them with expertise through an argued approach based on facts and figures. They must also work with political groups and in particular with the coordinators, and rely on a network of MEPs from the appropriate committee to propose amendments.

In the Council, lobbyists are not always welcome. Nonetheless, the fact remains that they have learnt to work closely with their Permanent Representations, meet the different presidencies, and if necessary, contact national authorities if a major interest is at stake.

Lobbyists may therefore master procedures and networks, and can hope to have an influence on European decision making.

Increased complexity

And yet, at the European Commission, one will discover that a large part of legislation does not take place by co-decision, but by complex comitology procedures, to which lobbyists do not have direct access. Many major issues are decided here, and there is a large risk of not even knowing about it.

At the Parliament, the lobbyist can find that, having succeeded in submitting important amendments, once the deadline has passed the rapporteur and the shadows agree on conflicting compromise amendments. The lobbyist may not have been informed of this, even though such amendments have priority over all others. If one is not vigilant, these amendments may become part of the provisions adopted by the Parliament.

Likewise, having succeeded in his amendments being adopted in parliamentary committee, the lobbyist may discover that the Parliament, the Commission and the Council are meeting in informal trialogues, so as to adopt common amendments which will be voted on as a priority in plenary, and then taken up by the Council, this ending the procedure after the first reading. These meetings take place behind closed doors, therefore documents are kept secret and information is difficult to obtain.

Finally, the lobbyist may discover that an increasingly large part of legislation is defined by executive agencies, whose consultation procedures are limited even more, without any place for the Parliament. As with comitology, the lobbyist may end up missing out on an important part of regulation decided outwith the traditional Brussels institutions.

New lobbying methods

These few examples demonstrate that the traditional work of the lobbyist is undergoing great change. One must adapt to a new deal, where the institutions’ desire for legislative efficiency and rapidity reduces transparency and the possibility for action. This new deal implies that lobbyists must change their methods.

Firstly their field of monitoring must evolve, so as to no longer be limited to just the legislative production of the Commission, Council and Parliament, but also the work of comitology groups and agencies. This requires a precise mapping of these organisations as well as the capacity to establish contacts on an ad hoc basis. Monitoring must be very precise as to the calendars of working group meetings linked to the production of compromise amendments and informal trialogues. Finally, monitoring must allow the members of comitology working groups and informal trialogues to be identified.

Secondly, it is necessary to diversify the nature of one’s network of contacts. The mapping of important actors must lead to contact being made with key decision makers within various organisations: advisers within the agencies, members of comitology working groups, rapporteurs’ and shadow rapporteurs’ parliamentary assistants during the period of drafting compromise amendments, and members of trialogues. On the subject of the trialogues, making contacts is most difficult here, as members are very secretive. It is therefore best to use indirect lobbying techniques through more accessible contacts.

Thirdly, access to information and contacts allows one to make targeted lobbying actions. Influence should be based on the lobbyist’s expertise and their contribution to negotiations. In the case of comitology, one must be able to provide very technical expertise. This is also often the case for agencies working on safety, standardisation and interoperability, for example. It is also therefore essential in these cases to be instrumental in proceedings from very early on, so as to be able to provide useful expertise at any given moment. In the case of compromise amendments and trialogues, what matters is the lobbyist’s ability to understand the negotiation process under way and bring about a part of the solution. An inflexible lobbyist who fixes themselves in one position will have little chance of making an impact on the legislative process. On the other hand, by being well informed a lobbyist can bring to the table something useful for finding a compromise or allowing an unblocking of the situation. Most importantly one must be able to pass one’s message via the correct intermediary. This is the key to success, while indirect lobbying techniques may also be useful.

To conclude this brief overview of the numerous challenges for lobbyists, the key point is the increasing difficulty of finding the right information, form a network of useful contacts and defend ones positions, at a time when the work of the institutions is evolving. Yet more new challenges will doubtless appear once the Lisbon Treaty comes into force. How does one lobby the new President of the Council? How does one approach the European Council which becomes a key institution? How does one work with a divided college of commissioners which is leaning towards presidentialisation? So many questions, to which an answer will have to be found in the new practice of lobbyists.

Stéphane Desselas

Managing Director of Athenora Consulting (www.athenora.com)

Lecturer at Sciences-Po Paris

Author of « An Open and Professional Lobbying »

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