FOCUS EUROLOBBYING: Net benefits - Electronic transmission of information is slashing cumbersome bureaucracy and changing the manner and the time frame in which European lobbyists are operating. Maja Pawinska reports

Assessing the main stakeholders who are affected by a client’s proposition, and targeting them and the European Parliament to raise awareness of a particular issue or even instigating legislation changes, is the essence of lobbying in Europe. But the way Eurolobbyists go about fulfilling this aim is changing in a fundamental way, compared to how they worked even a year ago.

Assessing the main stakeholders who are affected by a client’s

proposition, and targeting them and the European Parliament to raise

awareness of a particular issue or even instigating legislation changes,

is the essence of lobbying in Europe. But the way Eurolobbyists go about

fulfilling this aim is changing in a fundamental way, compared to how

they worked even a year ago.



The internet is having a huge impact on many aspects of the lobbying

process, from making research faster and giving access to more

information, to affecting the advice agencies give to clients, and the

way they target and contact groups, companies, committees and

organisations.



As the penetration of the internet deepens, and the use of it is

starting to become the norm in most areas of society in Europe,

lobbyists are recognising that the way they go about their business is

going to be dramatically different in the future.



It’s no longer a case of there being just a handful of parliamentary and

other web sites to keep an eye on; there are hundreds of relevant sites

which are updated daily with information about every committee meeting

and governmental machination which takes place across the Continent. In

addition to this, companies and other interest groups are more than

likely to have their own sites, or to be contributing to various forums,

and virtually everyone can be contacted by e-mail.



So does this make the job of the European lobbyist easier or more

complex as we enter the next century? At GPC Brussels, MD Caroline

Wunnerlich says one of the most significant changes brought by the

internet has been in the value clients put on information from lobbying

firms.



’When I started out ten years ago, any sort of information was

considered valuable, as clients’ knowledge of Brussels was very low,’

she says. ’Now, the availability of information, and the knowledge of

clients has put a greater emphasis on strategy and advising clients,

rather than on running around trying to find information. In the old

days, it was all about letters, faxes and monthly reports - now these

have all but disappeared, and everything is done in real time.’



Wunnerlich says the shrinking of the globe in business terms has meant

that sourcing background information from the US, Canada and other

countries in completely different time zones is now necessary, and has

been made much easier by the internet.



Account executive Edward Roddis at Decision Makers in Brussels, which

specialises in IT, transport and construction lobbying, says he probably

uses the internet in his work more than anyone else at the company. ’I

don’t know how I ever did my job without the internet. It’s such a

useful tool and so many political institutions have embraced it. The

information was always there, so the internet has not made the

impossible possible, but it’s improved accessibility.’



And at APCO in Brussels, which is carrying out research on the use of

the internet by traditional lobbying audiences, managing director Mark

Dober says the ’rules of the game are different’ as the impact of the

internet grows inexorably.



’It’s changed things for everyone - governments, NGOs, and the media.

Every parliament in the EU now has its own web site - the Italians even

have real-time video and audio. For consultancies, getting hold of

information from national governments is easier compared to even a year

ago.’



Getting hold of information is no longer the problem, but many lobbyists

say the issue is trying not to drown in too much of it. If anything, the

constant and increasing presence of technology at lobbyists’ fingertips

requires them to have an even sharper sense of what is useful in the

minutiae of parliamentary affairs, and what is not.



The internet adds a whole new dimension to research in that it’s quicker

than trawling through bound volumes in libraries, but the sheer depth of

information requires an astute filter. Clients don’t want to be baffled

with data they don’t need, any more now than they did five years ago -

they still want good advice, and results.



The freeing-up of lobbyists to be strategic advisers rather than

information gatherers has coincided with another effect on issues

management, as the internet has enabled the views of interest groups to

be spread faster and further than ever before.



At Shandwick Europe in Brussels, managing director John Russell

recognises that NGOs have been among the first groups to really grasp

the potential of the internet, and have used it to full advantage in

getting their point across in a number of campaigns (PR Week, 25

June).



’The internet has been a great leveller, and re-balanced power

structures in terms of information. Money isn’t the main consideration

in communications these days - all you need to get your point across is

internet access,’ says Russell.



It’s now important for companies to know what is being said about them

or their products or strategies on-line: influencing decision-makers

isn’t easy if someone is dragging your reputation around in the mud

on-line.



But the positive side is that the internet has made it much easier to

learn about parties which might be affected by a campaign.



’One of the situations in which the internet is most valuable is in

mapping who will be impacted by an issue, and checking out the web sites

of all the stakeholders. You can tell a lot about how active an NGO will

be, or whether a corporation is a bit sleepy, by how often their site is

updated and at its level of sophistication,’ says Russell.



From the corporate point of view, Russell adds that the internet has

also changed the way companies are organised in Europe: ’Companies are

doing away with regional structures, and strong communications tools are

needed to show cohesion of disparate business units which were

previously doing their own thing. The internet and extranets are the

perfect vehicle to fill that vacuum.’



Setting up a password-protected extranet which regularly updates

clients, whatever European office they are in, with position papers and

reports of meetings with regulators and committees, for instance, is now

a real advantage in servicing a client. This has become particularly

important since the advent of corporate web sites, as it has never been

more important for companies and organisations to be consistent in their

messages and positions.



Wunnerlich says: ’MEPs’ assistants are using web sites much more in

accessing information and drafting reports. Government relations

messages need to be consistent with corporate messages, and web sites

can be used to show understanding of audiences and their concerns.’



GPC senior consultant Aart van Iterson adds: ’There has been a lot of

confusion in Brussels about what having a web site actually means. Some

saw it as a utopia where every MEP and member of the Brussels press

corps did nothing all day but surf the internet, and others thought no

one was on-line.’



E-mail is another tool in the new way of working for lobbyists that has

downsides as well as ups. It’s obviously quicker than surface mail and

more targeted than fax, and has the benefit that even if the recipient

is not available, they can be left a comprehensive message, or sent

relevant documents as attachments. E-mail is now a common tool for a

large number of people, but not everyone wants to receive information or

communicate in this way.



There is a question, which falls under the banner of etiquette as much

as effectiveness, about who it is appropriate to contact electronically,

and in what situation.



In theory, all MEPs are accessible by e-mail, but that doesn’t mean that

it’s necessarily a good idea to introduce a campaign to them by

e-mail.



The same applies for most stakeholders: e-mail from strangers, even if

if the sender is a reputable lobbying firm with a strong campaign for a

global client, is not always welcome. It may still be some time before

it is taken as seriously, or seen as being as professional, as a phone

call or good old-fashioned paper and envelope.



At Shandwick, Russell says: ’I may be a bit conservative, but I would

caution the use of e-mails in contacting politicians. EU lobbying is all

about rapport, and positioning yourself as assisting the commission and

parliament, and e-mail is too remote to do that.’



At GPC, van Iterson says there is a growing suspicion in Brussels that

e-mail is being abused: ’There appears to be some ’cheating’ going

on.



It’s easy to send an e-mail under an assumed name or a fake trade

association, and more and more people are realising that e-mail is not

necessarily trustworthy. If I’ve spoken to an MEP and he knows my face

and what I stand for, he will then trust e-mails from me, but otherwise

he’s likely to be very cautious.’



Another consideration which is emerging as more of an issue is that the

ease and speed of e-mail means less thought and care is sometimes put

into the language and content than hard copy. This is leading to

disclaimers on the bottom of e-mails getting longer and longer. Some

feel this is a minefield as the potential for a lobbying message to be

misinterpreted is vast.



The use of technology in the job of the European lobbyists is likely to

become even more widespread in the near future as some of the

frustrations in the current systems are ironed out and understanding

about how the internet can work increases. Not only will the penetration

of the internet deepen in some of the existing member states where it is

least used, as a result of better infrastructure, but it’s possible that

web sites will be instantly available in any one of the European

languages. In short, lobbyists in Europe will shortly be able to work

more like their counterparts in the US.



But it’s worth remembering that although the way lobbyists work has

changed dramatically in the past couple of years, they recognise that

their core function is unchanged.





ESSENTIAL EUROPEAN SITES FOR THOSE LOBBYISTS IN THE KNOW



http://presidency.finland.fi is the web site of the Finnish Presidency

of the EU, in English. It is updated daily and covers areas such as

committee meetings and other EU business in Finland and the rest of

Europe.





http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/oj/index.html is the web site of the

Official Journal of the European Union countries.



Users must register to access content about EU proceedings. The site

also covers various treaties and EU legislation.





http://europa.eu.int/rapid/start/cgi/midday.htm is Midday Express, which

contains notes from the daily midday briefings for the international

press corps.





http://yweb.com/int/cce/index.htm is Europe On-line International, which

has links to loads of relevant European Union sites and EU information,

including the European Central Bank and EU Business, a daily updated

service with developments relevant to business.





http://www.polis.net/ billed as the starting point for information on

politics in Europe. Updated daily.





http://www.globalarchive.ft.com/ is the global archive of the Financial

Times, with articles from all over the world, most of which are free to

access.





http://europa.eu.int/comm/sg/sgc/lobbies/index_en.htm contains

information about the European Commission and various special interest

groups.





http://www.eucommittee.be/ is the home of the American Chamber of

Commerce in Belgium.





http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs_en.htm is a listing of Directorate

Generals within the EU.





http://www.eucommittee.be/ is the web site for the American Chamber of

Commerce (AMCHAM) which has an extranet for members that contains useful

information for lobbyists and industry in Brussels.





OPEN SKIES CLEARS PATH FOR AVIATION PROGRESS



A campaign to change an international aviation agreement involving major

world powers, the two biggest economic trading blocks and most of the

leading airlines succeeded earlier this year, but only because the

lobbyists involved could mount a solid case based on information

garnered via the internet.



In August 1996 Media House arranged a conference in Glasgow to promote

the international benefits of an Open Skies policy - particularly as it

affected Prestwick International Airport, the sleeping giant on the

Ayrshire coast.



Under the chairmanship of Lord Younger, the former Secretary of State

for Scotland and Minister of Defence, leaders of industry, commerce and

aviation met to discuss the possibility of relaxing the laws governing

the so-called ’Fifth Freedom’ - which until now has prevented foreign

carriers filling up with goods at UK airports to be flown on to other

destinations.



A closed-shop agreement between the US and UK governments in 1953 had

limited the transport of cargo between Europe and North America to

national carriers. The privatisation of British Airways in 1987 followed

by the deregulation of Atlantic routes did nothing to break this

monopoly.



Media House was approached by Enterprise Ayrshire to break this log-jam

in order to rejuvenate Prestwick Airport and help attract hi-tech inward

investment to the West of Scotland.



The chairman of Media House, Jack Irvine, decided on a transatlantic

campaign using Tactical Response - a specialised lobbying company

jointly owned by Media House and leading Scottish solicitor advocate

Peter Watson.



The campaign to achieve Open Skies success centred on influencing key

players in Government, industry and aviation on both sides of the

pond.



Washington, London, Brussels, and eventually the new Scottish Parliament

in Edinburgh become the target for the lobbying operation.



Media House account director Tom Cassidy said the internet was a crucial

tool: ’We used it to access studies and reports on international

aviation agreements, air freight figures, and reports on Government

tactics. We contacted members of the US congress and senate, giving us

access to information from the other side of the Atlantic. We had access

to people and documents that otherwise we wouldn’t have had.’



The new owner of Prestwick Airport, Brian Souter (already a Media House

client through his Stagecoach company), Fred Smith, president of FedEx,

the international air transport conglomerate, John Prescott, the Deputy

Prime Minister and Minister for Transport, and Lord Gus MacDonald,

Minster for Industry, all rapidly came on-side.



One of the turning points in the campaign was a visit by the US Senate

Transport Committee to visit Prestwick Airport. This was followed by a

dinner at nearby Culzean Castle where the advantages of Open Skies to

both countries were explained by Watson, Irvine and Prestwick Airport

executives.



Tactical Response published studies by two leading UK academics, who had

also been tracked down through the internet, which underlined the clear

economic growth that would accrue from a change in policy. This was

followed by a press conference where the authors were able to justify

their claims.



The decision at the end of August to grant Fifth Freedoms at Prestwick

to FedEx and Polar Air is seen as a landmark decision in aviation

transport.



UK carriers are almost certain to be granted reciprocal rights in the

US. For Prestwick Airport it means an increase in commercial freight

from 50,000 tonnes a year at the moment to an estimated 120,000 tonnes

by 2005.



Cassidy says: ’We managed to put together a strong case. It started as

an uphill struggle, and we didn’t realise how important the web was to

lobbying until we started this campaign.’



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