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
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
’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
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
’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
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
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
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
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
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
information about the European Commission and various special interest
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
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
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
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
The campaign to achieve Open Skies success centred on influencing key
players in Government, industry and aviation on both sides of the
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
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
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
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
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.’