Lobbying and Informal Contacts within the European Union
For a civil servant working in a policy area with a European dimension, lobbying and information gathering has no beginning and no end – it should be a continuous, planned process whose focus shifts according to the state of play of a particular dossier.
- Get in early. EU policies are like supertankers – a small nudge early on can make an enormous difference to the end position, but the later you leave it the harder you have to push to make any difference at all. Produce the first bit of paper, and then you will have set the agenda.
- Maintain good personal contacts with Commission and other Member State officials, relevant industry groups and other interested parties (consumer groups, NGOs, etc). Not only does this mean you’ll have a better understanding of their position, but it will also increase the chances of your hearing about new developments in the policy area early on. If your contacts respect you, you will also be better placed to put your point of view across.
- You should identify and build alliances with opposite numbers in other Member States. (You should use UKRep and other Embassies to help develop those alliances.) But don’t just talk to ‘friends’ – after all, it is not them you need to convince.
- Don’t forget the European Parliament! This institution has a very important influence over the European agenda, with the vast majority of legislation jointly adopted by it and the Council. Identify the key MEPs in your policy area (UKRep can help a lot here) – often those on the relevant committee – and develop a relationship with them. Often, you can be one of their most reliable sources of information.
- Effective lobbying is a two-way street. Always try to be able to offer some information on others’ positions or facts about the issue at hand in exchange for what you want.
- Get UK industry to make full use of Europe-wide trade associations in lobbying the Commission, and encourage them to get their opposite numbers in other countries to seek support from their national governments.
- Consult interested parties in the UK. In addition to keeping them up to date with progress, the information they can give you on likely effects will help inform both your lobbying and your negotiating strategies and offer alternative ways of achieving the same end. Consider all forms of consultation, not just a formal paper document – focus groups; email lists; web sites; workshops; seminars; etc.
- It is often helpful to get other Government departments on your side. The Treasury can be particularly helpful e.g. in encouraging other Finance Ministries to object to another country's attempt to subsidise (i.e. pay state aid to one of its industries).
- Do not forget to lobby cabinets as well as the Services: the two operate fairly independently. UKRep will help you do this.