FOCUS: EUROPEAN PR; Same game, different rules

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.

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

largely unknown.’

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

single elite.’

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.

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