When European governments change, it isn’t just the voters in their
own countries that watch the new boys with interest. Change ripples
through the whole EU as some policies get knocked off-course and others,
previously unthought of, suddenly go to the top of the agenda.
Few elections can have created as great an impact as September’s defeat
of Chancellor Kohl in Germany. Lobbyists are waiting with bated breath
to see what the victory of the SPD and its coalition with the Green
party will mean in the European context.
On 1 January 1999, Germany takes over the EU presidency. It does so with
its first left-of-centre government after 16 years of conservatism. Eric
Merkel-Sobotta, associate director at APCP Europe, says: ’Everyone in
Brussels is waiting to see if it will try to tackle some of the really
New Chancellor Gerhard Schroder faces a host of pressing concerns at
home, with high unemployment and pressures for social and fiscal
’Schroder might not focus all his energies on Europe, like Kohl whose
showcase was Europe,’ Merkel-Sobotta suggests.
This change of focus will have both immediate and long-term effects on
the Union. Germany has traditionally has been the paymaster of Europe,
funding many development projects, but the days of the ’soft touch’ are
’We’re telling clients Germany will probably behave in a more assertive
manner,’ says Peter Verhille, managing director of Entente International
Communication. ’It seems likely that it is going to bargain very hard,
if not to reduce its contributions, then at least to ensure they don’t
increase out of proportion.’
Other member states could well face having to increase their own
The problem becomes even more complicated because a number of poorer
countries, such as Poland, Estonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and
Slovenia, are set to join the EU in the next few years and may have more
of a claim to funds than existing members. Elaine Cruikshanks, managing
director of Hill and Knowlton Brussels, says: ’Every region in the
community is now lobbying for funding before enlargement hits.’
Germany is keen on enlargement, not least because it is geographically
closer to those Central and Eastern European countries and no longer
wants to shoulder so much responsibility for them.
And expansion raises another issue: weighted voting. Verhille says: ’I
think Schroder will push hard to increase Germany’s voting power in the
Council of Ministers which is where the real decisions are made.’
The shifting balance of power may well put a strain on the traditional
Franco-German alliance in the EU, and create new international
’There’s a lot of speculation in the media about the role of the UK and
whether it can join in the Bonn-Paris axis,’ says Verhille. ’Schroder
went to Paris immediately after his election victory. But we have the
feeling he is quite a strong Anglophile and that he is aiming to enlarge
Germany’s comfortable relationship with France to include London.’
Certainly Schroder appears politically to be closer to Tony Blair than
to Lionel Jospin. And it was New Labour that gave advice on Schroder’s
election campaign. The UK appears to have the chance to play an
important role in the EU following what most commentators feel was a
disappointing presidency earlier this year.
But the UK has still not signed up for the euro and France will
doubtless use that fact to dissuade Germany from forming too close an
’The fact that Schroder is instinctively closer to Blair than Jospin in
many ways makes life more complicated for those who are trying to
discern what will come out of the EU because there are three cooks
rather than two,’ comments Verhille.
In fact, it is even more complicated than that. Lobbyists do not know
yet just how much influence Schroder’s coalition partners will have in
Germany, and therefore in Europe. Green leader Joschka Fischer is
predicted to become the new Foreign Minister. But insiders expect SPD
chairman Oskar Lafontaine to strip EU affairs out first and take them
into his own portfolio as Finance Minister, thus limiting the Green
The Green party is expected to fill the post of Environment Ministry,
however, which is causing a lot of nervousness in industry. Benjamin Gil
is an independent consultant in Brussels with a range of private and
government clients in Germany. He says: ’The Greens are very
influential. They have never really been in national office in any
country and they have all kinds of ideas that we consider extreme, such
as wanting to triple the price of petrol. I don’t know how prepared they
will be to compromise.’
An early indication of their influence came in mid-October when the new
German government announced the phasing out of nuclear power. Both
coalition partners are in favour of environmental fiscal reform.
The Greens want to increase energy costs and decrease social
contributions in order to create more jobs and are prepared to place
this reform within an EU policy framework.
Sylvain Lhote, a consultant at GPC in Brussels, expects to see transport
policy affected. ’It’s quite likely that the position of Germany on
energy and fuel tax, which in the past has been quite moderate, will
change,’ he says. Verhille agrees: ’We anticipate a coalition in the
Council between Germany and the Nordic countries to push the green
agenda, which could lead to the introduction of energy taxes.’
Germany also wants to promote solar energy and Lhote predicts new
research and development programmes at the European level. The chemical
industry could also feel the impact of the Green agenda since there is
already a review of EU chemical policy underway.
’One of the key principles of the new German coalition is the
precautionary principle, which means that even if there is no clear
scientific evidence that a substance poses a risk it could be banned,’
says Lhote. And if the cons start to outnumber the pros, that may
restrict innovation and the ability of companies to do business.
Another industry that may suffer is hi-tech. The fear is that, because
Europe lags behind in new developments, it is effectively missing the
boat. Many say Europe does not have a risk culture, unlike the US, and
that it suffers from a skills gap.
’There is a danger that protectionism builds up and that this, coupled
with Germany’s natural tendency to regulate rather than leave the market
to sort itself out, will hamper growth,’ says Cruikshanks.
There are only a few months left before Germany takes over the EU
And, with European Parliament elections looming later in the year, most
lobbyists in Brussels are advising a cautious approach. ’Policy agendas
are set for any presidency before it arrives in office,’ explains Steve
Rankin, managing director of European Strategy. ’All it can really do is
try to ensure that policies that need an extra push receive that.’
’We don’t see any major differences on the big subjects like EMU and the
euro or foreign policy. But the influence of Germany as a result of the
recent elections is going to extend over many years and on the
environmental side that will certainly see a greener push coming,’
TACTICS: US-STYLE LOBBYING COMES TO EUROPE
Brussels may be halfway round the world from Washington DCbut US-style
lobbying practices are creeping across the Atlantic. One area where this
new influence is already quite marked is in the increased use of the
media to support lobbying campaigns.
Independent consultant Benjamin Gil says lobbyists from anglo-saxon
member states are most likely to adopt this tactic - concentrating their
efforts on their home media. ’You want the pressure to come from the
media at home, not Brussels,’ he says.
Brussels has the largest press corps in the world and the way you deal
with it is very important. Any company or interest group that fails to
develop good relationships risks becoming marginalised.
Steve Rankin, managing director of European Strategy, explains: ’The
willingness and need to use the media has arisen because NGOs, like
Greenpeace, use the media a great deal.’ He says the media played a big
part in the successful campaign European Strategy conducted for the Toy
Industry of Europe against Greenpeace on the use of phthalates in PVC
Advocacy advertising, although nowhere near as widely used yet as in the
US, is also starting to be adopted in Europe. Another US tactic
increasingly deployed in Europe is grass-roots campaigning.
Organisations are encouraging employees, suppliers, clients and other
interested parties to express their support. Elaine Cruikshanks,
managing director of Hill and Knowlton Brussels, says she has seen this
taking various forms. ’Companies are using techniques like reply coupons
to gain support,’ she says.
Tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris has used this method to get the
support of smokers. Other companies asked their employees to write to
their MEP on issues. And petitioning by organisations like Amnesty is
another example of this technique.
Some of the most sophisticated practitioners in the market are US
companies trying to build their European presence, so it is hardly
surprising that they are bringing their lobbying style with them.
’Building public affairs and lobbying strategies around the core values
that are the company is coming across to Europe,’ says Cruikshanks.
However, she does sound a gentle warning: ’Brussels is still very
different to Washington and it is dangerous to transfer practices
COPYRIGHT: BEATING OFF THE THREAT OF WIDESPREAD PIRACY
One of the most hotly lobbied topics in Europe at present is the future
of copyright in the information society. In early October, the chairman
of the European Union Legal Affairs Committee tabled a proposed
directive on the issue. Within two weeks, more than 250 amendments had
Two main interests are fuelling the debate about copyright. On the one
hand are the rights holders - publishers, film and record companies.
They claim that the advent of digital technology turns consumers into
pirates with the ability to make perfect, long-lasting recordings.
Opposing them are the consumer electronics manufacturers, determined to
defend their right to manufacture and sell recording equipment in the
Entente International Communication has been lobbying on copyright for
the European Association of Consumer Electronics Manufacturers (EACEM),
which counts Panasonic, Philips and Sony among its members.
Entente managing director Peter Verhille says: ’Inherently, those on the
other side, the publishers, have a somewhat simpler message to
They’re saying they are defending European culture and are acting to
eradicate piracy. The European Parliament sees one of its main missions
as the promotion of European culture, so to promote the case of the
technology industry is not very easy.’
One of the challenges facing Entente has been to distil the legalities
of the issue into simple messages so that politicians and civil servants
understand all the implications, economic, social and cultural. As well
as lobbying, Entente has been looking to build alliances with other
interested parties such as user groups. Media relations is also an
important part of the campaign.
Verhille says: ’We think the media is a useful tool to communicate
non-legal messages and we have worked hard to raise the profile of the
In addition to lobbying at EU level, Entente is also helping the EACEM
organise lobbying in member states. ’We have devised the campaign
strategy and all the necessary briefing documents and positioning
papers,’ says Verhille. ’And we have helped the association brief
national representatives who are acting as lobbyists for them.’
The word from Brussels and the council of ministers is that copyright
legislation is proving such a controversial issue that final adoption of
the directive is unlikely before 2000.
’We have managed to put the interests of the consumer electronics
industry on the agenda, which is shown by the arguments now being put
forward by MEPs in our defence. It is no longer taken for granted that
the publishing companies will win the day,’ concludes Verhille.
GLOBALISATION: CROSS-ATLANTIC OPINIONS ON GLOBAL ISSUES
The trend towards globalisation means European public affairs
consultants can rarely work in a purely European context. One issue
where they must take a worldwide view is climate change.
Last December, the European Union signed the Kyoto Protocol which
commits countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Detailed
negotiations are still ongoing, so consultants offering advice to
clients that may be affected must keep abreast of global
Francoise Van Hemelryck, a senior consultant at Brussels-based lobbying
firm Adamson BSMG Worldwide, advises a number of pharmaceutical
companies, including IPAC (International Pharmaceutical Aerosols
Consortium), on climate change. PR firm BSMG Worldwide acquired Adamson
in October and Van Hemelryck now claims she can offer her clients a
worldwide intelligence gathering service.
’We are keen to involve our colleagues in the US and get the US position
on climate change ahead of negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol,’ says Van
Hemelryck. She is also working closely with the BSMG office in Geneva
which is responsible for following international developments and makes
extensive use of the internet to track issues.
The next set of negotiations takes place in Buenos Aires in
The US has yet to sign the protocol and is under close scrutiny. Van
Hemelryck expects the talks to focus on the so-called flexibility
mechanism which allows countries to vary how they meet their greenhouse
gas emissions targets.
’It has mainly been the US pushing for the use of this mechanism and the
EU position has been a bit ambiguous. What has to be agreed in Buenos
Aires is how to make progress on the practical implementation of the
protocol,’ she says.
In Brussels, there are signs of a growing recognition of the importance
of the international dimension. Van Hemelryck observes: ’The fact that
the Environment Directorate is seriously considering the creation of a
directorate dealing exclusively with international affairs shows how the
EU environmental policy will have to become increasingly integrated with
international regulatory or political developments.’
As negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol continue, she is confident Adamson
BSMG Worldwide has the best resources to keep clients posted on
’We tell clients when a special meeting or workshop is taking place and
advise whether they should participate. We monitor studies and suggest
how they can have an input. And we advise clients when they need to meet
with officials, how to present themselves and what position to take,’