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With more and more legislation coming out of Brussels, knowing how to lobby successfully is an increasingly important skill for nonprofits and membership bodies. Our public affairs columnist Patrick Gibbels, shares his tips on collaborating to lobby at EU level.
It’s a common misconception that the rules and regulations organisations are bound by are produced largely by the national governments of their own Member States. In reality, these days, the large majority of laws originates in Brussels. Thankfully, more and more NPOs are beginning to realise this and have either become active at EU level or are looking to do so. Here are 4 key tips to help you make your voice heard in Brussels.
Start in Brussels
Exactly how much national legislation comes from the EU is difficult to assess. The general consensus seems to be that more than two-thirds of all national regulations originate in Brussels, with more recent sources quoting as much as 80%. Naturally, as the EU integrates further, this number is likely to only increase over time.
Unfortunately, as a lobbyist and consultant, I am still approached regularly by organisations wishing to make changes at EU level when it is already too late. When a piece of legislation has reached their Member State, it is often too far down the line to exert any meaningful influence, as the framework for the new rules has already been agreed in Brussels. In recent years, this has become even more apparent as the relatively flexible Directives have largely made way for the much more stringent Regulations. The latter leave virtually no room for negotiation at national level and must be implemented as is, across the EU. It is therefore vital to be aware of what is happening in Brussels at the very early stages, enabling organisations to intervene when and where necessary.
Join or form a collective, they are a powerful lobbying tool
In a sea of voices, it is easy to drown. There are 27 Member States, legions of organisations, and just one Brussels. In terms of staff, the European Commission is no larger than the average civil service of a large European city, yet they serve over 500 million people. Similarly, Members of the European Parliament are bombarded with meeting requests from individuals and organisations from across the EU. The result is that members of both Institutions need to be extremely selective about who they meet.
One key factor they will always consider is representativeness. How many people or organisations do you represent, across how many EU countries. For smaller organisations, and sometimes even for larger ones it can be difficult to be heard amidst all the noise. For those stakeholders, it can be a very good idea to join or form an association or coalition of like-minded organisations. By forming a larger collective, they become a more relevant discussion partner for EU officials, have a much stronger voice, and become more impactful in the EU decision-making process. The most straightforward approach is to join or form a sector specific or trade association, such as your national fundraising association. A strong, collective and unified voice from the sector can be a very powerful tool in the lobbying process.
Communicate – Associations are only as effective as their most active members
Every successful association is built on an active membership. Successful EU lobbying is a constant two-way street between the national Members and the Brussels secretariat. The EU team has the important task of informing its members at early stages of what is in the legislative pipeline. But effective feedback from the national members is at least of equal importance.
To be effective in a lobby it is vital to know the situation in every Member State, so that we can identify potential pitfalls in new legislative proposals and address these accordingly. Decision-makers need to know exactly where the shoe hurts and be adequately informed as to why this is the case, so that they can make the appropriate amendments on behalf of those organisations that would be affected by it.
Therefore, if you wish to make an impact in Brussels, it is important to provide feedback to your EU representatives. Which European rules make your work more difficult? And what potential threat could a proposed piece of legislation be to you or your organisation?
Moreover, whilst Brussels based associations can effectively lobby the European Commission and the European Parliament, influencing the third major European Institution, the EU Council, is not so straightforward. The EU Council is the representative body of the 27 European Member States. Influencing the Member States is best done at national level. For this reason, to be truly effective at EU level, it is essential for the national members of an association to carry the common lobbying message to their national governments.
Branch out and form broader alliances
Whether they are long-term or ad hoc, it is important to form alliances with other Brussels stakeholders too. Other organisations within the EU may have similar concerns to yours regarding proposed legislation and, in most cases, it makes sense to join forces. Many of the secretariats of EU associations are understaffed and under resourced. Pooling resources with other organisations can therefore be an effective tool to increase lobbying power.
A good example of this would be recent lobbying, where EFA worked as part of a cross-industry coalition on the subject of ePrivacy. This is a file that affects many NPOs and other organisations across the EU. Whilst it is difficult to find agreement on every aspect of a legislative proposal, there are certain elements in the ePrivacy dossier that will likely adversely affect many cross-sectoral organisations. In this case it makes sense to form ad hoc alliances, based on these specific elements.
By sharing information and coordinating messages within the alliance, we drastically increase the chances of effectively influencing the decision-makers. Hearing a message from a single association is one thing, but hearing that same message from many different directions will be very difficult to ignore.
About Patrick Gibbels
Patrick is EFA’s public affairs columnist in Brussels.
He is the director of Gibbels Public Affairs.
Follow Patrick @GPA_Brussels.
Read more from Patrick in our View from Brussels column here.
Photo by RAEng_Publications from Pixabay