Pressure groups are increasing their share of influence over the
European Commission, which is now more than ever open to outside
The modern day pressure group excels at surprise tactics, is adept at
manipulating the media and is a worthy adversary to the Brussels-based
lobbyist. Issues which pressure groups have succeeded in bringing to the
attention of the EC in recent months include international labour
practice, the growth of multinational companies such as McDonald’s and
Microsoft, the fur trade, genetic engineering and biotechnology.
The BSE crisis is one event which undoubtedly elevated the reputation of
pressure groups. Steve Rankin, managing director of Brussels-based
European Strategy says: ’Environmental issues were sensitised following
the BSE scandal. All organisations and boards representing interests
external to the policy-making process have gained in influence over the
last year because policy makers need input from these organisations when
dealing with highly sensitive political areas.’
Emma Bonino, European Commissioner for humanitarian aid, fisheries
policy and consumer affairs, is a firm believer in people’s opinions on
European policy issues, helping to shape better legislation.
’Politicians have a responsibility to make a choice at a certain point.
We are not always perfect, far from that, and we can be mistaken,’ she
Bonino was speaking at ’Pressure Politics: Industry’s Response to the
Pressure Group Challenge’, a conference organised by Entente
International Communications and European public affairs publication
European Voice, held in Brussels in June. Also present at the conference
was Tony Juniper, campaign director of Friends of the Earth (FoE)who
explains its philosophy: ’We are committed to monitoring the activities
of companies and governments against their stated green policies. Should
they fall short of these, they will become a ’legitimate target’.’
Shell and its ’Better Britain’ environmental campaign was targeted when
it emerged that Shell was a member of the Global Climate Coalition
(GCC), an industry lobby group opposing the Kyoto Protocol’s target to
reduce carbon dioxide emissions. FoE targeted Shell’s petrol stations,
The campaign attracted media attention and Shell said it would not renew
its GCC membership in April 1998.
Felix Rudolph, director of Austrian biotech company Pioneer Saaten
Austria, found his company on the receiving end of pressure politics
after attempting to register its genetically modified (GM) products with
the Austrian Government.
Rudolph says the ensuing media backlash, orchestrated by key
environmental pressure groups, caught Saaten Austria completely
’We were pushed immediately to discussing the case in the public arena.
The pressure groups concerned told the public that GM products were
dangerous and were not ready to be marketed,’ he says.
’Their campaign was supported by the press and we didn’t have the tools
to counteract their claims.’
The result was a law being passed in Austria to ensure products which
contain GM products are clearly marked.
The experiences of Shell and Saaten Austria illustrate the dangers of
ignoring pressure groups - a point that is not lost on European
When Rankin discovered that Greenpeace was campaigning to ban the use of
phthalates in PVC toys, he knew he had a worthy opponent.
Rankin’s client, the Toy Industry of Europe (TOIE), was keen to reverse
the proposal which was being set before the EC. It stated that all
member states should ban the sale of soft PVC toys, such as teething
rings, intended for children under 36 months. There was some concern
that phthalates, introduced into PVC toys to make them malleable, could,
if chewed, migrate into a child’s mouth.
Bonino was one of those charged with considering the proposal. Before
her was a report, published by one of the EC scientific consultations,
stating that the science behind the proposal ’was not clear’. This area
of doubt was enough to propel Greenpeace into lobbying to effect a
On the other side of the fence, Rankin and European Strategy director
Maurits Bruggink were working with TOIE to convince European
Commissioners that, given the science was unclear, it would be wrong to
move forward with the ban. Rankin stressed a ban would have a serious
impact on the toy industry - the market for all soft PVC toys would
shrink, since children can not differentiate between what is intended
for the mouth and what is not.
The TOIE and European Strategy successfully lobbied the European
Commission, which decided not to proceed with a ban, but Rankin does not
underestimate the influence of Greenpeace.
’Even though the science was unclear, Greenpeace helped build up such a
pressure that the politics got ahead of the science,’ he says.
’There needs to be a distinction between assessing the health risk (of
an issue like phthalates in PVC) and taking action to address it. The
danger is that when the risk is being assessed it is exaggerated.’
In the post-BSE climate, there is a temptation to over-react to
potential risks. Rankin says: ’Some pressure groups have as their motto
- ’the consumer is at risk’ without having the science to back this up.
We need scientific data as guide posts. Without it, policy is being made
where there is an absence of knowledge.’
Although Greenpeace was unsuccessful in its campaign, it is clear that
its tactics were not dissimilar to those used by lobbyists themselves
and Rankin agrees that essentially there is not much difference between
an industrial lobby group and a pressure group at European strategy
’The difference is that the pressure group claims to have a public
legitimacy, which gives it a political advantage.’
Peter Verhille, managing director of Entente says: ’What these
(pressure) groups have in common is that they are interconnected and
determined in their arguments and are often in line with popular
sentiment. They understand the power of PR and the media soundbite.’
To avoid playing into the hands of pressure groups, transparency has to
be key when dealing with sensitive issues. Citing the controversy over
phthalates in soft PVC toys, Bonino says: ’I discovered that the real
problem was not the toy industry, but the oil industry. It was not so
Rankin also believes the whole process of policy making should be made
more transparent. The signs are that influence of pressure groups will
grow still further. Verhille has identified a number of pressure group
issues which are already emerging in Germany, which he claims is a
trendsetter in this arena.
’New areas likely to infect the rest of Europe are flexible work
systems, product and service prices, corruption and transparency,
genetics, investor protection, social justice and anti-growth
economies,’ he says.
Verhille advises industry to spend time researching pressure group
attitudes and methods of work.
’Companies should recognise that one day they may well be scrutinised by
’new’ direct action politics and should start planning for that day
now,’ he says.
POLITICAL CLOUT: HOW THE COMMISSION BOWS TO PARLIAMENT
Lobbying in Europe was transformed in 1991 when the Maastricht Treaty
gave the European Parliament the power to veto European Commission draft
legislation in key areas before it was forwarded to the Council of
Ministers for adoption.
However, it was four years until the full implication of the procedure
was felt. MEPs took the pharmaceutical industry by surprise by rejecting
the Directive on Biotech Patents in March 1995. The Parliament had bowed
to a massive anti-biotech lobby, spearheaded by Greenpeace.
Stephen Kehoe, managing director of Adamson Associates, the main adviser
to the pharmaceutical sector on the draft legislation, says: ’Everyone,
including member states and the EC had assumed adoption was a formality
after exhaustive negotiations between the European Parliament and the
Council of Ministers had produced an acceptable text for most
That ’no’ vote put paid to seven years work in drafting a piece of
legislation which would have huge commercial advantages to the
After the Parliament’s rejection of the draft legislation, the EC began
work on a revised proposal. The second draft was put to the Parliament
in November 1996, where it went through two readings. The second reading
was completed in April 1998.
Kehoe says: ’The main lobbying focus of the second reading was to ensure
the MEPs did not amend the common position - the Council of Members’
opinion on the EC’s proposals.’ It was not amended and the revised
proposal was passed.
Kehoe now believes the European Parliament has emerged as the premier
target for lobbying in Brussels.
’The EC has traditionally been the main target for lobbying because it
is the only place where legislation can be written. People are now
waking up to the fact that the European Parliament can veto legislation.
It has also taken MEPs some time to know how to use their power.’
The Parliament differs from the EC in a number of ways - such as being
more transparent in the way it conducts its activities.
’Because it is so open, it is easy to set up shop as a parliamentary
lobbyist. But the job actually requires greater expertise than you would
find in London, not only because of the great variety of nationalities
and cultures, but because of the vast informal information-sharing
networks which MEPs, their staff and officials use to make decisions
before they meet in public,’ says Kehoe.
Indeed, much of what is finally voted on, both in Committee and in the
plenary session, has often been agreed well in advance. MEPs influence
over the EC has further increased the Parliament’s significance to
As well as vetting the appointment of European Commissioners and more,
MEPs are involved in setting up Committees of Enquiry to tackle issues
of public concern.
TALKING TRADE: INFLUENCING THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
EC involvement in global trade negotiations is giving European lobbyists
the chance to shape world trade policy.
Areas currently being addressed include the World Trade Organisation
(WTO) Millennium Round, liberalisation of trade in services,
(professional services such as legal and financial) WTO access for
Russia, China and Taiwan and the creation of airline alliances. Debate
is invited, not only by the EC, but by President Clinton who in May
called for a more open negotiating process at the WTO from industry and
However, Harry Leff, senior associate at APCO Europe believes that
industry is only belatedly waking up to the access being offered.
’In the context of industry globalisation and the creation of truly
international businesses, companies are now beginning to recognise that
many of their local concerns have an international dimension. Business
leaders are often surprised at the openness of trade negotiators to
receive well-timed and instructive input from industry in the
In recent months, the EC has made a point of actively soliciting input
from companies and their representatives. It has asked to be informed
about the interests companies have in trade liberalisation, the barriers
to trade faced by companies and about the potential growth in Europe
which open markets in other countries would generate.
Further to this, external trade commissioner Sir Leon Brittan has
organised the GATS 2000 conference to encourage dialogue between service
sector companies and EU officials.
Leff says that the need to be informed by business extends beyond the
EC. Communication is advisable with all decision-makers involved in
formulating the EC position in world trade talks, including the member
states’ trade ministers, their permanent representatives in Brussels,
the European Parliament and WTO officials in Geneva.
Of major interest to European industry is the possibility of China’s
accession to the WTO, which would force it to liberalise its markets and
become more transparent in its dealings with the world. A concerted
lobby has been formed around this goal. APCO Europe and APCO Associates
in Washington DC are assisting a range of industry campaigns which are
seeking trade liberalisation in China and its accession to the WTO.
While it seems unlikely that China will join the WTO this year, the US
and the EU are recognised as driving the negotiating process.
Leff says: ’For companies facing barriers to trade with China, now is
the time to engage in dialogue with EU negotiators and the US Trade
Representatives in Washington DC. Opening a dialogue directly with
Chinese officials through its Trade Mission in Brussels and other key
political centres will enhance this effort.’
He adds: ’With the world moving towards a more open trading system and
with officials looking to industry to provide information and counsel,
the potential impact that EU public affairs programmes can have on
negotiations is an opportunity which should not be missed.
EASY ACCESS: DATABASES TO LOCATE THE TARGET
The task of lobbying the right UK MEP has been simplified by the launch
of two new databases.
Public affairs consultancy APCO is launching an interactive CD-ROM
called IssueManager, while Two-Ten Communications and the Parliamentary
Monitoring Services (PMS) have launched the Targeter Parliamentary, an
on-line guide to Brussels and Westminster.
The Targeter Parliamentary is an electronic database and contact
management system which provides instant access to political, personal
and constituency data for all UK MEPs, MPs, peers and top civil
servants. Help and research facilities enable users to organise and
extract information tailored to their needs, including an option to add
private notes to supplement existing entries.
Two-Ten’s Research and development director Bill Leask says: ’The
package is the result of extensive development work. By pooling our
information management skills with PMS’ depth of knowledge of the
parliamentary scene, we have created an on-line resource for those with
a professional interest in Westminster or Brussels.’
APCO is launching its database, an interactive CD ROM called the
IssueManager, this month. The database allows users to search for
information by tapping in UK postcodes or by clicking on the relevant
town on a map of the UK.
A full list of UK MEPs can be accessed, which APCO UK managing director
Simon Milton says will simplify the job of the public affairs manager or
IssueManager also provides information on health authorities,
parliamentary constituencies, local authorities and local broadcast and
Other functions provide data on law courts, police authorities,
government offices and transportation bodies. Issue Manager also has a
specialised business database of over 40,000 companies employing more
than 50 staff which allows users to target prospective allies for local
Milton says: ’IssueManager is a tool to allow anyone to build a local or
national public affairs campaign by targeting the right audiences.
It is particularly helpful for companies or organisations that operate
multiple sites or branches around the country.’
Matthew Sowemimo, policy officer of the Multiple Sclerosis Society,
which tested the database prior to its launch, says: ’By providing quick
and simple information and allowing easy access to parliamentarians,
care authorities and media outlets, IssueManager is giving us the raw
material to launch successful local campaigns.’
Milton adds that IssueManager will be initially updated once a year.
Additional types of information may be added to the database over the
course of the year.