FOCUS: EUROLOBBYING - An inside track in the race to the EU/With up to 10,000 EU camp followers active in Brussels, consultancies need to differentiate their services in an overcrowded market place. Virginia Matthews and Kate Nicholas report

Just ten short years ago, about the time that the Single European Act finally came into force, the attitude of many blue-chip clients to Brussels and the whole panoply of Euro-machinations was akin to that of Hansel and Gretel faced with the rapacious witch.

Just ten short years ago, about the time that the Single European

Act finally came into force, the attitude of many blue-chip clients to

Brussels and the whole panoply of Euro-machinations was akin to that of

Hansel and Gretel faced with the rapacious witch.



They were either terrified of what they would find - needing assiduous

hand-holding by public affairs and lobbying specialists even to get them

within yards of the Commission buildings - or were, says Paul Adamson,

chairman of Adamson Associates, ’stubbornly ostrich-like’ in their

denial that Europe would ever impinge on their businesses.



A decade on, most firms are au fait not only with procedures in the

chief European institutions, but are beginning to grasp that however

unpalatable the prospect, Europe is here to stay. In particular, EMU -

that watershed of European union - is, they understand, going to have an

impact on their sector, even if Britain doesn’t initially sign up to

it.



The increased sophistication of clients’ grasp of the European scene has

made it vital that public affairs consultancies provide added value and

differentiate themselves in what is becoming a very overcrowded market

place.



Over the last 15 years, the number of camp followers of the European

institutions has exploded. Back in 1980 the Commission reported that

there were 439 pressure groups in Brussels. More recent estimates put

the head count of Brussels-based lobbyists at anything up to 10,000.



’In a recent pitch for a Dutch Ministry which was attempting to

formulate policy on research across six member states, we found that

most of our competitors were management consultants,’ says Julia

Harrison, managing director of GPC Market Access Europe.



As a result there is an increasingly urgent need for Brussels-based

consultancies to stand apart from the crowd. On the one hand, agencies

are finding it vital to differentiate their offering from that of their

legal and management consultancy competitors, while also finding

themselves in competition with the raft of experienced in-house public

affairs personnel now positioned in Brussels with multinational

companies.



Over the past few years, the agency scene in Brussels has increasingly

polarised between smaller specialised public affairs operations and

large scale generalists such as Rowland and Hill and Knowlton, which

sell themselves on the basis of a integrated full-service corporate and

public affairs capability.



’Smaller agencies are finding it easier to get a foothold for themselves

in the market by specialising in niche areas,’ says European Public

Policy Advisers deputy managing director Laurent Chokouale-Datou.



John Houston, chairman of the five-month-old specialist consultancy

Houston Consulting, says: ’Most smaller consultancies would claim to

offer in-depth knowledge in certain areas, but where we really shine is

in explaining where certain issues are going and the implications for

clients.’



At the same time medium-sized dedicated public affairs consultancies

such as GPC Market Access are increasingly segmenting their operations

to provide very specific sectoral as well as procedural knowledge.



As cross-border activities are boosted by enlargement, agencies are also

keen to demonstrate their cross-border capability to effectively deal

with draft legislative issues at member state level and with issues

raised at the time of national implementation. Chokouale-Datou explains:

’Clients want a one-stop shop approach, with one central point and a

programme that will operate in seven markets at the same time.’



Public affairs consultancies are also keen to underline the difference

between their more broadly-based public affairs offering and traditional

lobbying techniques.



’People often think that public affairs is lobbying,’ says Julia

Harrison, ’but lobbying is just the end process, often done by clients

being their own advocates. It is the sophisticated type of analysis and

interpretation that I feel we have to move on to.’



With the increasing transparency of the European institutions and a

growing number of management consultancies offering comprehensive

monitoring services, public affairs consultancies are also looking to

add value to their ’surveillance’ offering.



Elaine Cruikshanks, managing director of Hill and Knowlton Brussels, for

example, underlines the importance of keeping on top of the development

of issues on-line. ’Lobbying groups are very active in terms of their

internet usage and we see it very much as our job to alert our clients

to anything that may impinge on their business.’



’By employing surfing experts who can identify a particular inventory of

sites we can alert our clients to forthcoming campaigns before they have

even happened.’



European Public Policy Advisers are also offering an increasingly

sophisticated range of products including Political Profile Surveys,

which provide a benchmark of opinion among decision makers in Brussels

and Policy Audits which connect the likely impact of forthcoming

measures to a company’s bottom line.



Public affairs consultancies are increasingly seeking to underline their

expertise not just in reporting on, but also interpreting, developments

at a European Commission and parliamentary level.



According to Louise Harvey, managing director of Shandwick Public

Affairs in Brussels, there are three key issue which fundamentally

affect most clients and which allow consultancies to demonstrate their

unique range of skills. ’These key issues are monetary union, food

safety and consumerism, which are now taking a far more central role in

the political process here, as well as information society issues

including the development of technological commerce.’



As the European Commission and the industry it has spawned moves towards

the millennium, Paul Adamson is optimistic about the future for public

affairs consultancies in Brussels. ’After eight years here, I can

honestly say that the greater sophistication of clients with regard to

Brussels machinations has left us free to stop doing the more tedious

jobs and concentrate on being more creative.’



’People come to us because we know who matters in this place, we have

specialists in all the areas that matter like pharmaceuticals and

biotechnology and we also possess not only top-level technological

communications, but the know-how to make them work for clients. Nobody

else in my opinion - either inside a client company or in a rival

profession - can really match the set of skills offered by a top-flight

consultancy.’



CASE STUDY: SUSTAINING ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY



Established three years ago , European Partners for the Environment

provides an autonomous forum under the auspices of the European

Parliament for international, national and local policy makers, NGOs

such as the recent convert World Wildlife Fund, heads of industry and

trade unions to come together to discuss the broad issues of

sustainability A voluntary network of 45 members, European Partners for

the Environment aims to tackle the whole issue of sustainability in a

comprehensive manner, developing a long-term programme of sustainable

methodologies for different sectors of industry, rather than relying on

piecemeal initiatives.



It is not a classical Brussels lobbying organisation, but this gathering

of international, national and local interest groups and policy-makers

does provides a platform for industry to underline its environmental

credibility and credentials.



One of the major driving forces behind the organisation is Claude

Fussler, former president of European Partners for the Environment and

vice-president responsible for public affairs and new businesses at Dow

Europe, the world’s fifth largest chemical company.



Addressing a GPC Market Access Conference on pan-European lobbying last

year, Fussler admitted that companies such as Dow are handicapped when

approaching dialogue with policy-makers because of the industry’s lack

of credibility, in comparison to environmental campaigners.



’In my opinion we not only need to be talking to policy-makers, but we

also need to talk to NGOs and citizens groups. Through such partnerships

you get intense information about the future environmental agenda. We

tried to create a space and almost a laboratory where we can ventilate

ideas and listen to each other,’ says Fussler.



One of key issues for industry members of the European Partners of the

Environment is self-regulation and the organisation has been keen to use

existing voluntary regulations such as the Environmental Management and

Auditing Scheme (EMAS) to help develop approaches to sustainability.



Dow has already used the EMAS certification of its Terneuzen plant in

the Netherlands as an opportunity to develop ideas with local

authorities and opinion formers. The company held a workshop for NGOs

and local people in the region to find out how the local community could

become involved in developing sustainability projects.



CODED MESSAGES: REGULATING THE INTEGRITY OF MEPS



Sleaze scandals across Europe have increased pressures on legislatures

to be seen to be taking action. The ’cash-for-questions’ scandal forced

the British Government to establish the Nolan Committee. In Italy,

Luciano Violante, President of the Chamber of Deputies, is heading an

investigation into transparency in public life which may recommend a

register for lobbyists this summer and, despite the lack of any great

scandal in the European Parliament, lobbyists have been leading the

way.



European lobbyists established their own public affairs practitioners

code of conduct in 1995, signed by 40 leading consultancies, trade

associations and businesses. The register was both a recognition that

ethical lobbying is a valuable business attribute, and an attempt to

avoid draconian measures from the European Parliament. Maria Laptev, who

runs the register’s secretariat, argues new technology makes it

difficult for lobbyists to add value. The resulting specialisation and

regulation means ’officials know where we’re coming from - they are more

forthcoming as a result.’ ’Regulation is a ’sign of more mature and

professional lobbying - it makes lobbyists aware of the standards they

should strive towards,’ she says, predicting that the voluntary

structure will be formal.



The regulation debate was renewed after the 1994 elections to reflect

the increased competence of the EP. Sixty per cent of MEPs believed

interest group activity has increased since Maastricht and 70 per cent

favoured regulation of lobbying. In May this year, MEPs finally voted to

introduce a Code of Practice recommended in a report by Glyn Ford

MEP.



Its objective was transparency based on a minimum consensus. Lobbyists

must register and respect a code of conduct; make public activities and

interests; register gifts over 1,000 ecus; and keep EP rules when hiring

MEPs’ assistants. Lobbyists must not act dishonestly and not pass EP

documents for profit. An annual report secures extension of the pass -

failure to comply leads to withdrawal.



Ford says ’lobbyists play an important and constructive role - and it is

vital that members of the EP engage in dialogue with employers and

employees, with consumer and public interest groups. But we need to make

sure dialogue ... is not turned into a partnership or ownership.’



The aim of regulation is not to cap the quantity of lobbying, but to

improve its quality. Poor quality lobbying is counter-productive,

ineffective and intrusive. The acceptance of the Ford recommendations

may be a step in the right direction, however, regulation should not

become exclusive.



The responsibility for rejecting unprofessional advances rests

ultimately with MEPs and officials.



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