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What is today called “European lobbying” is the source of misunderstandings and misconceptions.
Let’s say four.
📞 Myth # 1: European lobbying is the clash betwwen “the industry” and European institutions.
It would be better to understand lobbying by its European name: representation of interests. These interests are many and varied in the Brussels European district: there are hundreds of companies, professional organizations, non-governmental organizations, communities, labor organizations, industry organizations. public, think tanks, and third States.
For every legislative proposal, the structure of the opponents – from the most radical to the most constructive – and the supporters – from the most enthusiastic to the most resigned – vary. Each kind of economic, social or political interest, de facto argue alongside all kinds of other interests in one cause or another, anecdotal or strategic, forming so many coalitions of fact, variables and evolutive.
Basically, lobbying in the European Union is done by everyone at everyone, with the understanding that lobbying is a work of influence, based on a vision, fueled by clear and accurate information, presented according to an argument rational and compatible with the general European interest and shared as methodically as possible with all those who, directly or indirectly, from near or far, participate in the proposal and then in the decision.
📞 Myth # 2: Representation of interest in Europe is dominated by a British vision because lobbying is the essence of the so-called Anglosphere.
Lobbying is indeed an American practice, born in the nineteenth century as part of a unitary state, where economic interests were free to confront each other in a rather unbridled way. Things are quite different in the European Union, because representing economic or social interest can only be effective if it respects the fact that the European Union is not a simple economic project with or against which we can to make an arrow of all woods, but a political project of peace and democracy of a Community of Nation States to which the particular interests are subordinated.
While it is true that in Brussels the main consulting firms are now British by their working style, they are committed to working in multicultural teams, in the image of what prevails in the European institutions. Most non-British consulting firms also work in “English” style.
However, the British are not lobbyists in the soul. They developed a little earlier than elsewhere in Europe, in the wake of Thatcherite upheavals of the 1980s. As a consequence, by the time of the Single Market at the turn of 1990, they were the best prepared to participate in its implementation.
In practice, the first clients of British consultants around 1990 were American companies and organisations, worried that the Single Market could be a fortress built against them.
📞 Myth # 3: Representation of interest in Europe is to kill a proposition that displeases.
Hyper aggressive lobbying is rare. It is a bad option because it is counterproductive. From the first line of the first draft of an administrator to the European Commission, we can be certain that the idea will one day result in political decision, even after years, even after decades.
Wanting to kill a proposal is particularly harmful to the reputation of the killer – reputation is the most valuable property of lobbyists, because the approach will be perceived as hostile to the general European interest, unacceptable attitude in the eyes of many actors of the Commission and the European Parliament.
The relevant strategies will therefore be rather to gain time to prepare for change, by complicating the debate a bit, negotiating adjustments, delays, sometimes political compensations. The most sophisticated strategy will be for an economic actor to cooperate with the European institutions by proposing improvements on certain points, so that the final project will be able to move closer to its own economic model, and away from that of competitors … lobbying, or the art of gaining market share.
📞 Myth # 4: Representation of interest in Europe is opaque in its operation and dominated by money.
Representation of interest in Europe is in fact an integral part of the European decision-making process; the Commission is asking for it, through its method of public consultation; MEPs also find it useful as a source of information – their main task is then, like a journalist, overlapping sources. Even the permanent representations of the Member States in Brussels receive defenders of economic and social interests who are not necessarily representative of the immediate interests of their country, if only to be aware of what is being said elsewhere.
For several years, the representation of interests has been framed: there is a code of conduct, and above all a register of transparency, public, where any actor who hopes to have influence on European policy – company, profession, NGO, university , religious community… must make themselves known, including by giving indications on the financial means used. This register is being perfected; it now contains more than 80% of interest representation actors, and it has become mandatory for communicating with the European Commission, the European Parliament, and to a large extent the Council of the Union.
Money is not actually the main condition for successful lobbying. A winning strategy is a strategy of respect – respect for the truth, respect for people – and method: act at the right time, with the right people, with the relevant arguments.
Corruption is rather rare in Brussels, also probably because European decision-making is so collective that it is difficult to bribe enough people to achieve its ends. The vast majority of players in European decision-making, 40,000 people on the institutional side, and 40,000 on the interest representatives side, are permanently established in Brussels and forge family, friendly and social ties. There is thus a community in the European district which acts, not in the sense of connivance – because everyone wants to keep their job well paid – but in the sense of governance, informal and collective.
To claim therefore to want to repress lobbying from the European public political sphere would be to risk favoring the emergence of hidden lobbying, made of compromises rather than compromises. The real flaw in the system does not lie in the regulation of private lobbying but in the regulation of public lobbying, particularly emanating from certain third States, as illustrated by the recent scandal involving a Persian Gulf State in 2022 -2023.