LOCATION LOGISTICS: Lobbyists discover the importance of being in the
right place at the right time
ADVERTISING: Toy and tobacco manufacturers battle to prevent European
advertising bans on their products
LEGISLATION: European Express Organisation pushes for greater
liberalisation of European postal services
Lobbyists who want to make themselves heard in Brussels are beginning to
realise that it is also necessary to have a presence in member states.
John-Pierre Joyce reports
At the height of the BSE crisis in May, when the British press and
government whipped themselves into a lather over the European Union’s
refusal to lift the ban on British beef by-products like tallow and
gelatine, the finger of blame inevitably pointed to those member states
which had blocked the Commission’s proposals.
Typically, Germany was singled out for particular opprobrium along with
Austria and Spain. But, as press reports pointed out, these three
countries alone - with a blocking capacity of 22 votes - were not enough
to wreck British hopes of an early lifting of the ban.
Portugal, it emerged, used its five votes to uphold the restrictions in
an effort to garner support for its own cattle slaughter programme. This
gave an extra vote to the 26 needed to ensure a blocking minority. The
decision by Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg to support the ban
then passed almost without notice.
The episode highlights the significance of qualified majority voting in
carrying measures at EU level and the importance of the system for
lobbyists attempting to secure their clients’ interests.
Introduced in 1986 to make decision-making on single market issues at
the Council of Ministers quicker and to avoid the delays of unanimous
voting, the qualified majority system allocates each member state a
certain number of votes in accordance with population size. Germany,
France, Italy and the UK have ten; Spain has eight; Belgium, Greece, the
Netherlands and Portugal have five; Austria and Sweden have four;
Ireland, Denmark and Finland have three; Luxemburg has two.
On issues such as agriculture, fisheries, the internal market,
environment and transport the council decides by qualified majority
vote. When a Commission proposal is involved, at least 62 votes out of a
total of 87 must be cast by at least ten member states.
Various committees, like the veterinary committee behind the beef ban
vote, have their own systems. This creates a situation in which
different combinations of countries can pass or block a measure.
As Graham Benison, vice president of human resources and corporate
affairs for toy maker Mattel Europa, points out, this forces lobbyists
to play the numbers game and concentrate on creating majorities or
blocking minorities, rather than trying to get unanimity. This, in turn,
means that lobbying on the ground in member states is at least as
important as campaigning at the administrative centres in Brussels.
‘What people forget is that all the major decisions which affect the EU
are made at the Council of Ministers where there is a great deal of
horse trading,’ says Benison. ‘Those decisions affect ministers’ own
countries and they are going to represent a view based on the
information they receive there, so its very important that you catch
their ear both at home and in Brussels.
‘A lot of people don’t understand that it pays to be in both places. It
doesn’t matter how effective your lobbying is in Brussels, if you don’t
act in the member states you get nowhere.’
The importance of lobbying EU representatives on home territory is
likely to increase as the Intergovernmental Conference discusses changes
to the structure of European institutions.
The IGC, which opened in Turin in March, is examining ways of adapting
the union to accommodate new members, including Cyprus, Malta and the
east Europeans, all of which have, or are, about to apply for
The enlargement of the EU to up to 27 members is likely to result in a
revision of qualified majority voting and an erosion of national vetoes
on many areas of decision making.
Further proposals include removing the right of every member state to
have a commissioner, allowing the European parliament to appoint the
Commission president, and allowing him to choose his team of
commissioners from lists of names submitted by each government. The
parliament, too, may be given greater powers of co-decision with the
According to Benison, the latter proposal in particular will force
lobbyists to look more closely at the needs and interests of other
member states and their representatives in attempting to achieve
‘The French, for example, don’t care in the same way as the Swedes about
advertising restrictions, but they do want quotas on imported programmes
from the US and Japan,’ he says. ‘So the French will say to the Swedes,
if you help us increase quotas we will support you in trying to impose
restrictions on advertising. Lobbyists need to understand how that
Daniel Verpeaux, joint managing director of Grayling France, echoes
those sentiments. ‘Many people think that working at the centre in
Brussels is enough, but more and more you have to work on both sides or
you have no chance to succeed,’ he says.
‘There is no ‘European’ public and no real ‘European’ media. You have to
act and talk locally. If you have a press conference in Brussels, for
example, the journalists follow just the political sector, not a
particular industry,’ he adds.
But with so much activity focused on and within member states, is it
really necessary for companies and lobbying agencies to have offices in
the Belgian capital at all? Most lobbyists, like European Strategy’s
chairman Michael Burrell, still think it is, as long as you have a
supporting network of offices or contacts in member states.
‘It depends what you want. If you are looking for straight monitoring
through the official journal you can do that from Brussels, London or
Timbuktu, provided they are on-line. But if you want proper lobby
contact on the ground you really need a presence.’
Certainly the international PR agencies continue to see a strong
Brussels presence as vital to develop public affairs work. In July
Fleishman-Hillard brought in Michel Deurinck, formerly secretary general
of the European Advertising Tripartite lobby group, to head up its
Brussels office. This month Edelman appointed Belmont consultant
Constance Kann to lead its own branch in the Belgian capital and help
kickstart its flagging performance in the EU lobby market.
But Clare Wenner, former director of corporate affairs for food firm
Geest and a GJW director before that, is sceptical about the need for
any kind of office. ‘You don’t have to open an office in every country,
you just have to be enormously imaginative about how you go about
lobbying,’ she argues.
‘You have to tap into a network and get out and about. If you know the
people you go to see them. My great worry is that a lot of so-called
lobbyists don’t know the people. It costs a lot to have offices
everywhere and that can add to the cost for a client,’ she says.
Wenner also thinks that the BSE crisis and the UK government’s short-
lived policy of non-cooperation highlights a pressing need for British
companies to adopt a more active approach to Eurolobbying.
‘If you have a particular interest that depends on other people’s votes,
like it or lump it you have to lobby them,’ she says. ‘One of the big
problems is that we in the UK have an attitude problem about dealing
with foreigners. There is still a feeling that you can leave it to the
government and they will look after you. British companies are learning
that you can’t rely on that, but there is still a long way to go.’
Broadcast views: Working on Sweden’s advertising ban
In attempting to overturn Sweden’s ban on television advertising to
children, the Toy Manufacturers of Europe (TME) has focused much of its
lobbying efforts on members states across the European Union as well as
Formed six years ago, the association represents the interests of toy
companies and associations from across Europe, including Hasbro, Mattel,
Lego, Bluebird Toys and the British Toy and Hobby Association. Since
1991 it has waged a battle against a Swedish law which prohibits the
broadcasting of advertisements directed at children below the age of 12.
The government and most of the Swedish public claim that television
advertisements are unethical because children do not understand their
commercial purpose and are consequently misled. This law, argues the
TME, contravenes the European Commission’s 1989 directive ‘Broadcasting
without Frontiers’ which compels member states to accept broadcasts
transmitted from other EU countries.
With the directive now under review in Brussels, the association,
together with European Strategy, are lobbying the commission, the
European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The TME has also
teamed up with consultancy networks in Denmark, Germany, France, Italy,
Spain and Holland in an effort to convince the rest of Europe that the
Swedish position contravenes single market principles.
‘Council members are representatives of states and so you have to lobby
them in their own country, especially France, the UK, Germany, Italy and
Spain which have the most votes,’ says Peter Waterman, chairman of the
TME’s broadcast committee. ‘We want to put forward the view that the ban
is a Swedish rather than a European position.’
Waterman points out that Italy is a particularly difficult country to
lobby because of the relationship between television and the political
process, highlighted during the premiership of Silvio Berlusconi.
Meanwhile elements within Romano Prodi’s left of centre government are
as keen as the Swedes to introduce a ban on children’s advertising.
Germany presents other problems because of its federal constitution. The
regulation of advertising is the responsibility of the 16 individual
states, or lander, rather than the federal government in Bonn.
Consequently, TME tends to direct its lobbying efforts on the more
populous and industrial lander in central and southern Germany, such as
Bavaria, Baden-Wurtemburg and North-Rhine Westphalia.
In Sweden the association has adopted a PR campaign to convince the
Swedish public that TV advertising is harmless. As well as organising
seminars and conferences, the TME last year published research by
Jeffrey Goldstein, professor of child psychology at the University of
Utrecht, which showed that children do not differentiate between
advertisements and other programmes, but appraise each according to
European Express: Aiming to be first past the post
One of the Shandwick Group’s professed strategic priorities last year
was to strengthen its European public affairs capabilities. In September
it set up Shandwick Public Affairs in Brussels. The office now has a
team of five headed by former foreign diplomat and, more recently, MD of
Shandwick Netherlands, Louise Harvey.
Harvey claims its USP is to provide a holistic approach, combining
lobbying with broader public affairs work, particularly political media
Since November the new office has employed this approach for its client
European Express Organisation - the courier trade association formed by
express distributors TNT, UPS and FedEx.
The EEO is pushing for greater liberalisation in European postal
services, with particular focus on the European Commission’s draft
directive being considered on 27 September 1996.
Opposition comes from some member states’ national post offices, which
have traditionally dominated the market place. They argue that
liberalisation, when combined with the electronic competition from faxes
and e-mail, would make a universal service unaffordable and job losses
Shandwick’s objective has been to keep the private sector’s views on the
European political agenda. The message is that increased competition
will have the opposite effect and jobs will be created in private
Harvey says: ‘This sort of campaign could only be done effectively from
Brussels. The press corps here is the second in size only to Washington
and our objectives require constant influence on this community.
‘Timing is also important. There’s no point in trying to capture a
Brussels correspondent’s attention on postal services, while he is
occupied with a major agricultural issue,’ she adds.
Harvey claims that the parallel use of direct lobbying and media
relations can identify the relevant ‘trigger points’ in the political
process and stimulate debate to influence decision makers at appropriate
The media drive has ensured that the private sector’s views are being
aired in heavyweight titles like the Economist, the Financial Times and
‘We’re not necessarily looking for a specific mention of the EEO,’ says
Harvey, ‘But we try to ensure that the Greek chorus emanating from the
national post offices when liberalisation is mentioned, is balanced by
Shandwick says the process is fluid but there are some encouraging
developments, like the shift in the UK government’s position in favour
of direct mail liberalisation - 17 per cent of the express industry’s
business - which was demonstrated at the last meeting of the EU Telecoms
The EEO will have a tougher job changing the attitudes of the French,
Belgian, Greek and Portuguese governments, which are strongly opposed to
their postal monopolies being tampered with.
‘You have to assess in which countries it’s worthwhile putting our case
and where it’s a lost cause,’ adds Harvey.
Burning issues: Getting to grips with EU legislation
Faced with a draft European Commission directive to ban tobacco
advertising, the personal ire of public health commissioner Padraig
Flynn after Philip Morris’ attack last year on EU anti-smoking drives,
and mounting pressure from health campaigners over the effects of
passive smoking, the Brussels-based Confederation of European Community
Cigarette Manufacturers (CECCM) needs as many friends in Europe as it
Set up in 1989 and representing seven tobacco companies - Philip Morris,
RJ Reynolds, BAT, Rothman, Imperial Tobacco, Gallaher and Reemsta - the
CECCM represents 70 per cent of cigarette producers in terms of sales.
Although it ostensibly lobbies on behalf of its own members, the
confederation has often found it effective to team up with other trade
bodies and associations to add weight to its arguments.
Perhaps the thorniest issue is that of tobacco advertising. The EC
directive has been altered many times since its initial publication in
1992 and continues to be stalled by opposition from the UK, Germany, the
Netherlands, Greece and Denmark. Using arguments in favour of free trade
across the European Union, the CECCM has found common cause with groups
like the European Advertising Agencies Association in Brussels and the
European Publishers Association based in London
‘We are setting a precedent,’ explains Catherine de Valois, the CECCM’s
manager. ‘If the EU starts banning tobacco advertising then who will be
next? The advertising agencies are very worried about that so we work
together informally and communicate with other sectors to see what their
objectives are. We plan to make it a general issue of freedom of
De Valois points out that media organisations are equally concerned
about what they see as threats to cross border trade. ‘An advertising
ban would contradict with the idea of the single market and is a barrier
to the circulation of goods,’ she says. ‘You have to co-ordinate with
other trade associations if you are working to the same goal.’
The CECCM also works in co-operation with retail, environmental and
packaging groups to present a common response to EU legislation
regulating the amount and type of material used to package goods, refuse
recovery methods and recycling targets. ‘If there are too many
regulations on packaging we will be faced with the problem of
recognition and branding,’ says de Valois. ‘We are not in the front line
on this issue, but we get involved from time to time.’