FOCUS: EUROLOBBYING - Dealing with the pressure principle/Lobbyists, especially in Europe, now face stronger adversaries than ever in pressure groups skilled in soundbite and ’direct action’ politics. Stephanie France reports

Pressure groups are increasing their share of influence over the European Commission, which is now more than ever open to outside influence.

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,

and AGM.

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.


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.


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

negotiating process.’

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.


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

print media.

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

issue campaigns.

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.

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