Political lobbying on the Continent may not be as well defined as its
British counterpart, but individual countries are learning to develop
their own approach to public affairs characters.
‘The biggest mistake you can make in Europe today is to attempt to
impose your own values on people from other states,’ says Julia
Harrison, managing director of the Brussels-based GPC Market Access
Europe and staunch champion of what she calls the ‘non-imperialist’
approach to European lobbying.
‘It is crucial to understand that the Anglo-Saxon template of public
affairs simply cannot be plonked down in other countries and expected to
work just as it does in London. Although Europe shares many things, the
differences in their approaches to lobbying for example are stark,’ she
France, says Jean-Christophe Alquier, practice leader in the public
affairs department at Burson-Marsteller Paris, is something of a novice
in lobbying - partly because until fairly recently, business and
politics operated in totally different spheres: ‘The attitude for a long
time was that the activities of France’s private companies had no
bearing on the nation’s life as a whole and if anything were a
perversion of the principles of French democracy.’
‘Although it is only in recent years that the people who regulate
business have actually begun to have any commercial experience
themselves, today, as with so many other European countries, economics
and business is now firmly at the top of the political agenda, even
though most ordinary French people tend to view it with suspicion.’
He adds: ‘But while the country as a whole still tends to distrust
money-makers and entrepreneurs - they tend to see them as operating in a
world of bribery and corruption - to be truthful, any corruption that
does affect us tends to be related to politics and the electoral
process, not to lobbying.’
If Britain’s old boy network has set the standard for nepotism and who-
you-knowism across the world, then one of its most willing disciples has
been France where the elite training system for politics and the
administration makes the machinations of Yes Minister look like an
episode of Noddy in Toytown.
‘In this country, it is not only imperative that you have been to the
right school or grande ecole,’ says Alquier, ‘but it is also likely that
having been to one of those schools, your entire future will have been
mapped out at an early age.’
But while the old school tie is still an important entry qualification
for the mostly male ranks of the Parisienne political and administrative
elite, this, like much else, is changing fast.
In France the nascent lobbying industry is dominated by lawyers as much
as by specialist consultancies. Where these specialists do exist, they
tend to be home-grown, one-man band operations, rather than local
offices of multinationals - B-M itself being a multi-national PR firm,
rather than strictly a lobbying specialist.
Alquier believes that there are just five specialist lobbying firms
operating in Paris at the moment, all of them French-owned, rather than
Paris offshoots of foreign-owned concerns.
In Germany, says Caroline Wunnerlich, a director at GPC Market Access
Europe, it has until recently been trade associations, rather than
individual firms, which have tended to dominate the lobbying scene in
Bonn. ‘The notion of a third party consultancy is not at all established
in Germany,’ she says, ‘where the marketplace is extremely traditional
and conservative. Here too, lawyers are considered extremely important
and influential in the lobbying scene, while specialist lobbyists are
She adds: ‘But although Germany is still unused to the notion of there
being specialists in this field - this is still considered something
more appropriate to Westminster, Washington or increasingly Brussels
rather than to Bonn - public affairs is growing in importance now.’
With German firms today being forced to compete in the international or
even global arena, the often staid approach of the trade association or
the in-house specialist is becoming less than satisfactory, she adds.
‘Those firms looking for a more dynamic approach to lobbying are finding
that trade bodies simply don’t have the staff or the resources to get
their message across in the new expanding marketplace. For many people,
there is a great desire to employ consultants, but given the country’s
sensitivities to the industry, they are more likely to call themselves
‘management specialists’ than political lobbyists,’ says Wunnerlich.
One of the many issues shared throughout Europe is deregulation, ‘The
liberalisation of utilities is affecting much of Europe at the same
time,’ says Harrison, ‘that, and the increasing globalisation of so many
markets, means that lobbying skills can only continue to grow in
Harrison adds that while Westminster is still largely sceptical about
the prospects of EMU (monetary union), the rest of Europe appears to be
gearing up for it. ‘Cynicism is rife of course, just as it is in London,
but there is a strong belief outside the UK that monetary union will,
despite the problems, actually become a reality,’ he says.
Rather than a single old-boy network, Germany at least has several
regional equivalents. ‘ It is important to remember that Germany is very
regionalised,’ says Wunnerlich, ‘so it’s a case of the old-boy Bavarian
network versus all the other regional equivalents, rather than one
In Germany, the consumer and environmental lobby is a force to be
reckoned with, be the issue one of waste management or road pollution.
In the emerging markets of Scandinavia too, the safety of our
environment is at the very heart of the political agenda:
‘The recent entry of Sweden and Finland into the EU has given the
Northern bloc more power than it has ever before had in Europe,’ says
Harrison, ‘and it ultimately means that the Community must look even
more to its laurels on environmental legislation.’
While what Harrison calls the ‘Anglo Saxon approach to lobbying’ would
be as alien to Sweden as it is to Germany, the country has a very
interesting political tradition of its own to export.
‘Northern Europe has a strong belief in open Government and all that
entails,’ she adds, ‘and it could be that it will help bring about
changes throughout Europe as a result,’ she concludes.