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Recently, there has been a lot of talk around the corruption charges against MEPs highlighted by the Sunday Times. In this context, some articles published in the press associated lobbying with corruption. Even the Secretary General of a major European party stated: “It does look like an infestation of corporate lobbyists in the European Parliament and it seems that their only entry pass into the Parliament is a credit card.”

Of course, The Lobby cannot condone such behaviour by either lobbyists or MEPs, but neither can it stay completely silent when such accusations are put forward against our entire industry. It’s worth recalling that, in the case of the Sunday Times, fake lobbyists trapped real MEPs.

Like most industries, lobbying produces its fair share of black sheep. However, the vast majority of interest representatives use honest and straightforward means to bring their point across, and many subscribe to a voluntary chart of self-regulation and are also signatories to the Commission’s voluntary Register of Interest Representatives.

Still, many people believe that lobbyists – even if they are not corrupt – are problematic for the democratic functioning of a society. This is completely wrong.

Interest representatives are a democratic necessity. If one thing is certain in EU-Brussels, it is that there are lobbyists for everything: large corporations, NGOs, trade unions, trade associations, national, regional, or local governments, consumer groups, patient groups, professional groups, and so on.

It is up to decision makers to decide whom they listen to, particularly those who will be impacted by the decision, consider their arguments, and take a decision. Indeed, most MEPs would say that lobbyists are actually appreciated, since they can provide necessary information which is just not available elsewhere.

Anything else would be tantamount to policy being made in an ivory tower, far away from what society really needs. Can this be said to be truly democratic?




Let's do better than this, shall we?

Since Ivy Lee’s famous press release in 1906, media communication has evolved. Some would argue the pinnacle of this development is the social media press release. It’s nothing revolutionary in The Lobby’s opinion, but it does hit the nail on the head in one sense – in keeping with the times.

Digital is here to stay, whether you like it or not, which to a certain degree means that tools, plied for whatever trade, that keep up with the changing face of internet technology are probably more likely to survive, thrive, and get the job done.

Here are some mind boggling statistics to reinforce this point:

  • In 1995 there were 45.1 million internet users, at the end of September 2009, that same figure had risen to 1.73 billion.
  • On average 247 billion emails are sent every day.
  • There are over 234 million websites and 128 million blogs today.
  • 27.3 million tweets are sent on Twitter every day.
  • Facebook serves 260 billion page views per month, or 37.4 trillion page views a year.

Now then, back to the social media press release. The basics are straightforward and well established, especially for public relations professionals. It’s a digital news release that contains multimedia elements such as MP3 files or links to podcasts, graphics, video, RSS-feeds, Technorati tags and ‘add/share’ buttons for popular sharing platforms such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon etc. Here you can see two examples of social media releases from Cisco and Symantec.

So what about the position paper, the staple food of the ever-so-non-digital Brussels public affairs scene? At the risk of upsetting our peers in Brussels, it seems the most avant-garde move that that public affairs professionals have done on this front is to turn a Word document into a PDF, ideal for – yes – printing. OK that’s not quite true, but you get the gist.

Where is the digital position paper? The tool that in the future will form the means to communicate with stakeholders (when we’ve finally evolved into a paperless society and when digital paper has taken off in a big way), the tool that will be read by Commission, Council and Parliament officials on Android powered pads. We’re not there yet, but the tools to create such a position paper are most definitely here or in the pipeline at the very least.

Imagine opening up a truly interactive and visual position paper. The key messages are there sure, but, for instance, the manufacturing process is displayed in crystal clear video, statistics and key figures come to life when clicked, diagrams and charts are smoothly plotted across your screen, the CEO of the company gives you a quick tour of the company’s upcoming priorities etc.

This vision might seem to be a simple attempt at daring to be bold, but, it could still be rather more effective when it comes to communicating with stakeholders in Brussels, than the traditional two-pager in black and white with a few logos in the header…

We’re curious to know what people think, both inside and outside of the institutions. Is the digital position paper part of the missing link? Could it improve communication in Brussels (and D.C. for that matter)?

– Emil

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Committee week in the European Parliament is the marmite of lobbying – you either love it or you hate it.

Politics in action...and free coffee!

Whilst I can understand those lobbyists who see Committee week as mission impossible, flitting in and out of meetings, trying to be in three places at once, their phones stuck to their ear, anxiously tapping on their laptops or running down corridors trying to find room JAN 2Q2, I’m afraid I cannot empathise.

I love Committee week.  If anything represents the raison d’être of being a Brussels-based lobbyist, it is being sat in a Committee room listening to an attempt by a Commissioner or Minister to justify him or herself to a lynch mob of MEPs, many of whom are liable to say something outrageous, hilarious, or patently untrue, and invariably do.

Attempts have been made to webstream Committee meetings, leading to the temptation to just stay behind one’s desk and watch the webcast, but there is nothing like experiencing a meeting in the flesh.  Facial expressions speak volumes, particularly when an MEP or official is being attacked from all sides.  An MEP who literally gives a Minister the thumbs down (as happened yesterday) will be missed by the camera, as will any frantic yet amusing attempt by the Chair to halt a UKIP member in full flow.

But what I like most about Committee week is the camaraderie of those of us in the back row.  The lobbyists, MEP assistants, and journalists who often have to sit through hours of debate only to hear that the issue they are there for has been put back to the next day, or maybe cancelled altogether! Some get exasperated at such agenda changes, but I find it exhilarating. What will happen next?  You never can tell.

And the free coffee! And free bottled water!  And the ability to listen to a debate on organ transplants in Hungarian, Finnish, or Slovak!

Committee weeks are the bread and butter of our business in Brussels. The networking, the political intrigue, the nitty-gritty – all are part and parcel of our daily work, and all are amplified within the context of a European Parliament Committee meeting.  Politics in its purest form stripped of all gloss and glamour – just the way it should be.

– Rob

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Proof that MEPs are back at work

Proof that MEPs are back at work

Spotted by The Lobby in the halls of the European Parliament:  a poster advertising a 6-hour course for MEPs on how to work with lobbyists.

Or possibly it is merely a command to our new Parliamentarians: “Work with lobbyists”.

Either way, The Lobby is heartened to see MEPs taking “les lobbyistes” seriously, and if ever they require a guest speaker for any future sessions, we would be all too happy to oblige.

– Rob and Delphine

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