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LAST UPDATED:June 12, 2013

DURATION:
57 Minutes

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How to Master EU Interest Representation: The BM guide to EU lobbying best practices

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Table of Contents:

Who are lobbyists?
Transparency
Regulation of Lobbying
Channels of Influence
The use of Social Media
Summary of EU institutions insights
12 TOP TIPS for effective lobbying in Europe

How to Master EU Interest Representation: The BM guide to EU lobbying best practices

Please note that the following transcript has been edited to make reading easier and may slightly differ from what was said in the webinar recording. Disclaimer: We aim to ensure a high level of accuracy, but the webinar and the transcript are for information purposes only and they cannot be considered as legally binding.

Speaker: Karen Massin (moderator: András Baneth)

Our speaker today, Karen Massin, is the Chief Operating Officer at Burson-Marsteller’s Brussels office.

Burson-Marsteller is one of the best consultancies in EU public affairs and public relations, dealing with a wide variety of EU consultancy issues.

I am András Baneth, the Director of the European Training Academy that provides training courses for companies, diplomats and public bodies on how the EU works.

I will now pass the floor to Karen.

Why talk about lobbying?

Thank you very much. Good afternoon everybody. Thank you for joining us for the next hour: I’m going to present a brief report on lobbying.

The topic of lobbying is very high on the public agenda and there is a lot of media reporting about it because people consider it as an illegitimate influence on politics with scandals erupting from time to time (e.g the ‘Dalligate’).

Burson-Marsteller’s guide to effective lobbying in Europe

Burson-Marsteller released a report recently, which – like our previous reports – aims to contribute to a better understanding of what is good lobbying and seeks to document the perceptions, the opinions and the evolutions in the way that government stakeholders perceive lobbying. What works and what does not work.

We have been doing these reports over the last 15 years and we started with assessing the Commission, then the Parliament and then all three EU institutions. Afterwards, we did a report where we looked at six/seven Member States whereas this time we are looking at 20 Member States including the EU institutions in Brussels.

Regarding the methodology, we surveyed about 600+ respondents in 20 EU countries, politicians, MPs, MEPs, but also national government officials and EU government officials. The pulse was done online, by phone or face to face interviews. It was run by reputable local agencies and then it was analysed by a company that specializes in polling and is part of the Burson-Marsteller’s network. The fieldwork was done from January to April this year.

When analysing the findings of the survey, I will make specific references to the answers given by the people in Brussels because there are some interesting divergences when compared to the responses given by the people in the other EU Member States.

Who are lobbyists?

Who do the politicians and officials consider as lobbyists? The most recognizable lobbyists are trade associations, public affairs agencies and professional organizations. What is interesting to note is that in Brussels, trade unions come up very high as being lobbyists compared to the average: 73% as opposed to 40%.

This is the key detail that differentiates Brussels from the rest of Europe. For instance, companies in Brussels are rated at 70% as doing lobbying compared to 47% locally and the same happens with think tanks, law firms and embassies. This is explained by the fact that most of the companies in Brussels are there to lobby and not to sell their products. The same applies to law firms that are based in Brussels due to their competition work but also to think tanks that have relations with the EU institutions.

Positive aspects of lobbying

Interestingly, there is not an overwhelming agreement across Europe about what is the most positive aspect of lobbying. The answer that came out first at 37% is to ensure that there is a participation of the actors and the citizens in the political process.

The second answer was about providing useful and timely information at 28% and then raising the local and national importance of an issue. The latter is interesting because when we made our survey in 2009, raising the local importance of an issue came out at 50% of the responses.

Negative aspects of lobbying

The first point is the lack of transparency which is seen as the biggest weakness in the whole practice.

The second is giving an undue weight to elites and to the wealthy. This is interesting because very different perceptions exist among the Member States on this point. The European average is 24%, in Norway it is 55% and in Italy 3%.

The other interesting answer is that lobbyists are not providing neutral information when lobbying. For instance, the industry can be perceived as biased whereas the NGOs as too emotional.

Transparency

Nearly 9 out of 10 respondents agreed that ethical and transparent lobbying helps policy development. I think that this comes out quite positively for the lobbying practice. Interestingly in Brussels, 48% of the respondents believe that ethical and transparent lobbying helps policy development compared to an average of 25% across the 20 Member States. Therefore, in Brussels, people see lobbying as being part of a process that is very positive because it helps actors to get involved and it also helps the institutions to receive timely and useful information that they would not receive otherwise.

Journalists and law firms were perceived as being the least transparent. I need to explain here that by referring to journalists, we are not referring to journalists who work for leading publications but mostly to freelance journalists. This type of journalists tend to work on their own and they sometimes provide their services to entities without clarifying that on that moment they are not acting as journalists but as an entity that is lobbying on behalf of an organization.

The most transparent are perceived to be trade associations and federations at 65%, professional organizations at 60%, and then companies, trade unions and NGOs.

Currently, there is a growing demand for mandatory regulation of lobbying, a demand for transparency. It does not mean that there is a rejection of lobbying as such but that it is not being done the right way.

Question: There is a very interesting concept here of labeling journalists as lobbyists and I would personally be very interested in your view as to why they are considered lobbyists and in what way would a journalist be lobbying?

I would say that in general, 90% of journalists are not really perceived as lobbyists. You could of course argue that a UK journalist who is systematically asking for the UK to exit the EU, is in a way lobbying but technically this journalist is only expressing his/her own views on the issue. I believe that the point I made before is specifically with regards to journalists who are freelancers and who sometimes provide their services to different organizations not always under their journalistic capacity.

Thank you very much.

How transparent are lobbyists?

Embassies are seen as transparent at 52%, citizens at 33%, academics at 32% and think tanks at 27%.

One thing to mention here is that public affairs agencies in overall are seen as being poor in terms of transparency at 35%, compared to only 27% as being transparent. Thus, this a point on which the industry needs to work on.

Regulation of Lobbying

The majority of the respondents felt that lobbying is not sufficiently regulated in their countries. Figures came at an amazingly high rate in Portugal with 100%, Spain 93%, Czech Republic 88% and Italy 87%.

On this point, I wonder if there is any lobbying regulation as such in place or if this is about the perceptions versus the legal component.

There are big variations according to the countries. In some countries there is nothing in place in terms of register or guidelines whereas in other countries EU type regulation is about to emerge.

If you think that the lobbying sector is not regulated enough, you may think that it would be useful to have a mandatory register in place.  Indeed, 53% of the respondents said that it was useful whereas 22% said that it was not really useful. The stronger views were reported in Portugal at 88%, Poland at 87% and Italy at 83%. In Brussels, there is a growing demand for a mandatory register at 79%, which is quite important, whereas 48% of the respondents expect that this will happen within the next three years.

Norway is actually the only country where more than half of the respondents felt that a mandatory register would not be so useful.

Lobbying Effectiveness

Trade associations are perceived as the most effective in lobbying, with 62% of the respondents saying that they are ‘effective’ or ‘very effective’.

There is one interesting exception in Germany where the people surveyed felt that 78% of the NGOs are the most effective followed by public affairs agencies at 71%.

In the graph, the dark green represents the corporate sector effectiveness and the light green, the NGOs effectiveness. What you can clearly see in the corporate sector is that energy and healthcare came out as the most effective fields of lobbying at 68% and 60% respectively. On the NGOs front, environment and human rights were seen as the most effective areas of lobbying at 52% and 49% respectively.

In financial services, agriculture, chemicals, mining and sport, the findings show that the corporate sector and the NGOs are perceived in almost the same way in term of effectiveness.

We have an interesting question here which is what is the difference between trade associations and professional organizations?

Trade associations represent the interests of specific industry groups whereas professional organizations are representing people’s professions (like doctors, nurses etc). Thus, professional organizations are not industry and are not representing federations but people. This is the main difference.

It is interesting to note as well that 82% of the Germans felt that corporate efforts in agriculture are amazingly effective, 71% of the Czechs found tele-companies really effective and 62% of the French perceived the defense industry as being quite effective, compared to only 46% in average. In addition, the UK respondents felt that trade and transport are very efficient sectors whereas in Sweden only 6% of the respondents believe that the chemical industry is very efficient.

Looking now at how NGOs are perceived in terms of their lobbying efforts on efficiency, 69% of French believe that NGOs dealing with human rights are efficient compared to 49% in average. Not surprisingly, 78% of Germans feel that NGOs working in the energy sector are very effective when liaising with the government. Interestingly as well, in Poland, social affairs rate only 10%, which shows that probably there is not a big civil society in the country that can defend these issues.

Poor Practices

What are the lobbyists doing wrong? The governments and politicians felt that a big number of lobbyists from the corporate but also the NGO sectors sometimes do not understand well the political and legislative process. Moreover, a third of these respondents said that each of the two sectors comes in the process either too late or too early for them to be able to do something.

In addition, there were a number of government officials who said that corporate lobbyists are offering what is being perceived as unethical inducement. There has always been the question of what is an unethical inducement.  The lobbying practice has changed over the last years and I think that what was seen as normal 10 years ago, it is now seen as not appropriate anymore. However, it is interesting to note that this is still coming up in some of the countries.

One comment and one question: my comment on this issue it is a perception that both EU institutions or generally government institutions and a lot of private companies have reinforced their code of conduct. They have compliance officers in place so both legally and ethically speaking a lot has been done to make sure that it is clear to everyone what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

The question is about whether we can consider public institutions such as regional representations to the EU as lobbyists. I think the question is a bit broader in the sense of how would you define someone or any kind of entity as a lobbyist?

Embassies for instance are public institutions and even though we have not rated regional representations in our survey, I think that to a certain extent they would both be interested in obtaining funding from the EU. Therefore, I would personally include them in the transparency register. For me, there needs to be a broad definition of lobbying because these types of entities also reach out to the EU institutions asking something from them.

Maybe we could try to define any kind of lobbyist in a very broad term as anyone or any entity having an interest in influencing policy making. Would you agree with that?

I agree and this is the EU definition as well, which you see reflected in the transparency register. It is on purpose that the register is not called a lobbying register but a transparency register allowing other entities such as religion groups, trade unions, regional representations and think tanks to be registered. They are not exactly doing lobbying but some part of their work does include lobbying.

Going back into the details of poor lobbying practices, you can see in the graph that the dark brown represents the corporate sector and the light brown the NGOs. The industry is perceived as not being sufficiently transparent about the interests it represents at 48%. In Brussels, the industry is perceived as not being transparent enough at 55%, much higher than the average in the 20 Member States. Regarding NGOs, the main critic is that they base their positions on emotions rather than facts at 56%.

In Brussels, the most frequently poor practice is coming too early or too late in the process. For the corporate sector this is something very regrettable that scores 50% along with the fact of some of the industries being too aggressive at 35%.

Another question here with regards to failing to understand the process and procedure, is whether this is such an important issue in lobbying.

I think it is very important because if you go and see a parliamentarian, you need to understand what he or she can do to help you and if you do not understand that, you do not actually address your request the right way. Moreover, inappropriate briefing materials come up at 25% because you cannot address information to a parliamentarian like you do to a European Commission official. Commission officials tend to be more technical so they are in need of back up information.  On the other hand, politicians are busy people and thus, they like information summarized in less than 20 pages.

So, essentially, the common point in all these requests is being a useful addition or an asset to the person they are addressing because if you do not know the procedure or if you do not provide the right briefing material and you do not know exactly what you want to get out of that meeting, obviously, that will not come across as a best lobbying practice.

Exactly; the politician or the official is likely to not be interested into what you are saying.

Corporate sector in detail

Not being sufficiently transparent came out at 71% among the Czech responses, failing to understand the procedure and the process at 60% in Latvia, being too aggressive at 56% in Lithuania and 50% in the Netherlands, being too early or too late in the process at 67% in Estonia and 60% in Latvia, basing positions on emotions rather than facts at 57% in Poland, inappropriate briefing material at 52% in Norway whereas unethical inducements came out in France, Greece, Lithuania and Poland. In addition, lobbying by press release came out as something very well known and common to do in Estonia with 53% of the respondents having being lobbied by press release.

NGOs in detail

Basing positions on emotions rather than facts came out at 75% in Brussels, which is much higher than the average of 56% whereas – not surprisingly- it came out at 77% in the UK.

Failing to understand the process or procedure came out at 73% in Finland, being too early or too late in the process at 80% in Estonia, being too aggressive in Germany at 59% compared to the average of only 28%, being not sufficiently transparent at 40% in Romania and interestingly, offering unethical inducements in Germany at 26% which is quite a surprise.

Channels of Influence

The data suggested that the sources of information the respondents found most useful are internal meetings and documents from national authorities.

Social media and traditional media, including media websites appear to be seen as not particularly helpful in order to make decisions.

In Brussels what is cited as being interesting is internal meetings at 84%, national authorities’ documents at 78%, written briefing materials at 75%, industry meetings at 80% compared to the average of 62%. Surprisingly, the respondents in Brussels see the EU institutions as being quite a good source of information at 87%, which is of course much more higher than the average in Europe at 52%.

What the respondents see as most helpful is specialist news at 58%, government websites, scientific or educational websites, traditional media websites, industry association websites, NGO websites and corporate websites. In terms of social media we see blogs, wikis, Twitters, Facebook only at 10% to 20% max. Therefore, there is quite a big difference about how to define information on these media.

May I have a comment on that? Because I think it is extremely interesting to analyse these numbers, especially when it comes to different social media channels. I have a certain view on that and I am curious to see what you think. Also those who are watching this webinar are interested in how come the survey shows the opposite regarding social media that are so much talked about as being the next thing when it comes to public affairs and not just in commercial parts. Therefore, I believe that there is a slight difference in relation to what social media is used for. Because when it comes to technical information of finding detailed background information, social media is probably not the right place to look for them and this is what the survey proved. But when it comes to indirect influence or having a perception or a certain idea – what in commercial terms would be called ‘branding’ or in public affairs would be called general perceptions and positioning – social media has an important role to play. In particular, social media had an important role in framing the debate around the famous ACTA agreement on copyright and intellectual property infringements, the bee issue with the neonicotinoids and the banning of certain substances like Bisphenol A, not via talking about the technical details but via creating a certain perception. So, I am a little bit challenging the survey, which is obviously a strange thing because this is the peoples’ opinion. Still, I think that there is a difference between framework or perception and the technical details of a certain issue and I am curious to hear your view on that as well.

Yes, I think you are right. The first thing to say is that this is the view of the respondents and of course there is a quite a difference of perceptions according to the age and the country of the respondents where some of the social media are much more popular in some countries than in others. But as you say, the question is about how they make informed decisions, so basically, where they take information. Social media gives you an idea about where people stand and what people care about so this is something for the officials and the politicians to take into account. As we have seen in some cases, social media have were amazingly successful but I believe that in the daily work of the respondents, social media is not playing a big part yet because some of them are connected but quite a majority of them is not. That said and coming back to my first point about the age of the respondents, I believe that social media are going to dramatically change in the next decade because the new generations are going to join the institutions, the industry, the NGOs and I think we are going to see an even bigger shift of the importance of social media. Thus, we should anticipate this difference within the next three to four years.

Thank you very much.

What you need to make informed decisions in you work

Internal meetings are coming up very high as well as national authorities documents, meeting with industries are rated at 62%, written briefing material at 59%, site visits at 54%, meeting with NGOs at 52%, meeting with the institutions at 52%, whereas public consultations, web search, conferences, personal network, media, online media and traditional media follow. Thus, it still remains pretty traditional.

One more comment on the result of the survey and social media: in my view what happens so often is that social media channels like the three major Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, are many times referring the decision makers and lobbyists to another source so they and in and by themselves may not be useful but they refer those who are looking for information to a specific website like an NGO website or to a conference description. Therefore, by itself social media is not useful but as a referral it could be useful. Still, this would probably appear under a different heading in this very chart.

I think all of us receive so much information and sometimes people value much more meeting people face to face because social media is very much unilateral. Sometimes you do not know where to look and there is so much happening all the time. I think that in a way, a good old meeting where you talk through the issues is still very much valued by people because it helps them process the information.

How officials and politicians liked to be approached

You can see quite big differences here. Not surprisingly in countries like France and in Germany, they like to be spoken to in their own language at 73% and 74% respectively. UK officials and politicians like to be spoken to in their own language as well. In some countries like Spain or Estonia it does not really matter. There are some points which are quite interesting in terms of the differences. You see for example that at the EU level, where officials are used to be spoken to not necessarily in their mother tongue language, 80% of them see that as very important but most of them are fine if you speak to them in another language like English. Thus, this is something to take into account when you are reaching out to the officials in their countries.

What makes people decide if they want to speak to a lobbyist

Once again, we should approach this issue in terms of the countries. If the topic falls within a field of expertise, it is seen as important at the EU level at 77% and at 70% in Germany, whereas in some countries it is not really important. It is seen as very important if the lobbyist is transparent in Estonia at 93%, if the topic is of interest in Finland at 70%, if it is part of the consultation process in Brussels at 34%. The latter means that there are much more interactions taking place in Brussels, whereas in Poland this comes out at 73%. Interestingly, knowing the lobbyist comes out very strong in France at 40%, which shows that in some countries the interest of some private networks is much more than just reaching out to people you do not know only because you are talking about the same issue. Then, if the lobbyist is publicly registered this comes out very strong in Brussels at 57%, which is much stronger than in other countries like Poland where it is close to zero. This shows that in Brussels there has been some extensive work done on the transparency register and that these kinds of things are starting to being taken into account by officials when they decide to speak to a lobbyist. So it is a trend.

The use of Social Media

Policy makers often consult company websites, industry association websites, NGO websites, and Wikipedia, all of them rating almost at the same level.

Nearly a fifth of the respondents use Facebook and Twitter daily although 50% never use them.

A comment here is that many companies or trade associations and industry representations do not really understand the importance of having a website or an online presence which can really tie into their advocacy efforts. Strengthening their presence with sufficient material all the way down to how their website looks and how easy it is to use, are very important factors. Because when seeing these numbers, it is clear that policy makers do consult their websites but they also need to find the relevant information that helps them. If this is not sufficiently prepared by the companies with this factor in mind, they may be far less sufficient in their general advocacy.

I think you are completely right. Everybody agrees that a website is needed but they do not often put the right resources to the website so for instance it is not updated often, it does not contain the right information, it may looks messy or it can be hard to find information. Sometimes, if you consult the website of an organization that sells consumer products, you only find information of relevance to a consumer but not to a retailer. In some organizations you will see that the website is there but it is quite neglected in terms of resources.

I think this is an extremely interesting point because when it comes to large companies who sell consumer products or even B2B so to say profit making companies, they may have a press section which is specifically for journalists or a press room but they may not think of having a public affairs section where you can find their position papers or their views on a given issue, which is certainly a lost opportunity.

I think you are right. The regulators and the politicians are not looking for the same type of information. It is always good to have a section that is more for regulators like most of the websites have a section for the press.

Going into the detail of social media, you see that 20% of the people are on Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia daily whereas blogs follow at 10% and YouTube at 6%, which shows the importance of the videos. On the other hand, you still have a 40%-50% of the people who do not use social media at all.

Another interesting point to make regarding this topic is that we are obviously talking about lobbying in a general sense and influencing the policy making. However, also on the policy makers’ side towards citizens, companies or their stakeholders, this is an interesting finding. Because speaking where their audience is, is increasingly important. These are the channels where they need to get the support for the policies they are making from the stakeholders.

Exactly. I do not have the statistics about the general population because the survey questioned 600 politicians and regulators. I could imagine though that there is quite a good number of around the same level like a 50/50 percent. You are right in the sense that EU institutions and politicians are looking towards the social media to try and reach out to the population because this removes the layers for them to have a dialogue and it is a good, cost efficient way, to actually reach out to a large quantity of people in a very efficient manner.

Going back to the last question which is linked to the language of the digital sources of information, about 45% of the respondents consult the digital sources in their own language and in English. This is interesting because you may not always think about working on digital media in other languages than in your own. 30% use three languages including their own, English and another one, whereas 20% uses their own language exclusively.

Summary of EU institutions insights

Lobbyists are more likely to get a meeting if they provide relevant useful information at 77%, if they are publicly registered at 57% and if they are transparent at 64%.

Due to the weight given to transparency, there is a growing demand for a mandatory register at 79%.

The most effective ‘corporate lobbyists’ are those working on agriculture, energy, healthcare and chemicals.

12 TOP TIPS for effective lobbying in Europe

Lobbying has become far more professional over time. The findings of our report show that there is still room for improvement. In terms of these 12 tips, what we think is important is that:

  • you need to ensure that you are right on time and with the right arguments;
  • you need to be prepared to adapt your strategy and respond to both external and internal challenges;
  • you have to look for allies and you have to work within coalitions whenever this is possible;
  • you have to identify the focus of your political argument, the values and interests involved and the potential basis for the consensus.
  • the policy makers are more likely to meet you if the topic lies within their field of interest and if you are transparent about the interests you represent;
  • you have to keep in mind the local, national and European dimension of the policy issue you are working on;
  • you have to be creative and memorable in your activities using digital and social media because there are a lot of issues which are being discussed at the same time.

At the website www.lobbyingsurvey.eu, you could find all the details of the report I have presented including some country details. Thank you very much. I do not know if you have more questions.

Yes, there is actually one question which we received on the topic of online tools and social media that is referring to the US platform of change.org which is indeed a very important platform for triggering change in the government. The person comments that there is no such platform in the EU. I would maybe add that there is a similar one, though different in its agenda. That is www.avaaz.org where they collect a large number of signatures on triggering policy change. For instance, in the previously mentioned ACTA agreement there was some 2.5 million signatures collected. Thus, the question is about the role of online tools and social media in triggering or putting certain issues on the radar of decision making.

This is an interesting comment. I think there is what we call the beginning of a cyber democracy because one could say (there was a Euro-barometer survey on that) that the 500 million citizens of Europe are not being represented through the civil society or the trade associations here in Brussels that lobby the institutions. There has also been an emergence of these petition websites which are still NGO-like channels and thus, there is a more democratic mobilisation of the people because this has been the big issue so far with mobilizers thinking that what is happening at the EU level is just too far from them. There was the same question about the story in Bangladesh with the terrible fires in the factory which led to an Avaaz mobilization of 1,2 million people that actually obliged H&M and some other companies to state that they will change the way they work with their suppliers. Thus, there is an effect and I think this is welcome because we are facing a lack of democratic interest vis-a-vis the institutions either public or national and I think this would help to actually make a connection.

I think the interesting phenomenon we are seeing these days is that the EU institutions are obviously not immune to the public perception because earlier they were a little bit more detached from the public opinion or the public pressures of this kind. My perception is that these days the EU institutions are listening more to the European public – if there is such a thing – and they are more willing and interested in passing policy which reflects the public too.

Yes, I think they are really craving for this sort of dialogue because they are one level remote. Two out of three EU institutions do not have a daily access to the citizens, which are namely the European Parliament and the European Commission. The only institution that has daily access is the Council, the EU governments. But the governments in Europe have been playing a game for the last few years where they think it makes sense for them not to mention that they have been discussing a certain policy at the EU level so that they can bring everything back to the national discussion.

I think you are right. The institutions want this dialogue and I believe they would like it. They work on a lot of policies to actually connect with the people such as water quality of the sea, air pollution or roaming, which are very much impacting everybody.

We still have a lot of work to do on that, but you can see that the EU is trying; 2013 is the year of the eu citizens whereas there is also the possibility to make a petition under the citizens’ initiative framework. So, the EU is moving towards its citizens but we are not there yet.

It is indeed an interesting trend to watch out for.

I thank you Karen for this very interesting seminar and we will send the website link in the follow up email so that you can directly access all the details and the data contained in the lobbying survey.

Have a good day!

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