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28/05/2016

PA boss: ‘Backlash against Anglo-Saxon model’ expected in new Parliament

Public Affairs

PA boss: ‘Backlash against Anglo-Saxon model’ expected in new Parliament

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The next European Parliament legislature will be characterised by a “backlash” against the British-American economic model, Michiel Van Hulten of PA firm Burson-Marsteller told EurActiv in an interview, predicting that the centre-right EPP and centre-left S&D groups are “likely to argue for much tighter regulation of the economy”.

Former MEP Michiel Van Hulten is managing director for government relations at the Brussels branch of Burson-Marsteller, a PA firm.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

How do you expect the election results to change your approach to working with the Parliament? 

MEPs are pretty much free to organise their work as they see fit and to focus on specific issues and policy areas, especially when compared to their colleagues in most national parliaments. 

That means that efforts to engage with the Parliament must always be highly personalised and tailored to the individual background, expertise and interests (and, of course, committee membership) of members. That was true for the old Parliament, and it will also be true for the new one. So in that sense little will change in our approach. 

The big difference following the elections is the change in the makeup and size of the various political groups. Many policy debates that used to take place behind the closed doors of group meetings will now take place in public, between groups that are more homogenous and more polarised in terms of their policies. 

The political make-up of the Parliament has become more complex, which is something those who wish to engage with the Parliament have to take into account. 

How do you envisage the new conservative group set up by the Tories taking shape? Will it work in conjunction with other parties? What do you expect its influence to be on decision-making? 

On the one hand the new group will not play a big role. The decision by the Tories to leave the EPP group means that the EPP will now become more homogenous and pro-European, probably shifting to the left a little. 

It looks like the EPP will be able to work more closely with the Socialists and Democrats and would like to do so – which means the new European Conservatives and Reformists group risks being marginalised on the big debates. 

On the other hand, if the British Conservatives win the next UK national election, that means they will be able to use their voting power in Council to influence co-decision debates in the EP. 

The new Parliament contains more Eurosceptic, nationalistic and fringe members than under the previous legislature. How do you expect this to change your approach to working with the EU assembly on behalf of your clients? 

The makeup of the European Parliament is now more diverse than ever before. Many Europeans are sceptical about the pace of European integration, and it’s important that their voices should be heard. 

More debate and closer scrutiny of the EU decision-making process will ultimately lead to better policy decisions being taken, and that is good news for everyone, including our clients. 

In practice, I do not expect it to significantly change how we work with the Parliament on specific issues impacting our clients. 

Do you expect any ideological coalitions to emerge in the next Parliament, or do you expect coalitions to be issue-specific? Please give examples. 

I expect three main developments: 

First, there will be a greater degree of agreement between the EPP, the Socialists and Democrats and the ALDE groups on the process of European integration. All three groups are fully supportive of the Lisbon Treaty and can be expected to support cautious further moves in the direction of further integration. 

Second, there will be a backlash against the British-American economic model, with the EPP and the S&D groups likely to argue for much tighter regulation of the economy. Having said that, the EPP is likely to have big internal debates on this. 

Third, I expect the EPP and Liberals to use the new strength of the centre-right to call for less red tape resulting from European legislation, and to make it easier for businesses and other organisations to operate in and across the EU. 

Do you expect the EU’s priorities to be modified or changed following the elections? Which three or four key words would you choose for a ‘new narrative’ to replace the Lisbon Agenda? 

Regulation (of financial markets) and deregulation (of other markets), partnerships instead of enlargement, fighting climate change without undermining EU growth, and strengthened transatlantic cooperation. 

To inform MEPs and their national constituencies about EU policy issues and the impact of decisions taken at EU level, what communication channels do you recommend to your clients? Do you focus your lobbying and media activities in Brussels or in national capitals? 

An effective lobby requires clear objectives and a thought-out strategy. There is no single blueprint that can be applied to all situations. 

Most campaigns aimed at influencing EU decision-making, especially in the case of legislation decided by co-decision, requires that clients are active both in national capitals and in Brussels. Where and how is something you advise on a case-by-case basis, depending on the client’s needs and the political context. 

Pan-European media such as the FT, the BBC and Euronews are important, as are websites like EurActiv. But most European politicians and civil servants also pay close attention to their national media, so an effective campaign often combines both. 

We also recommend the Internet. We live in an age in which people now spend more time behind their computers than they do behind their televisions or reading newspapers. We get most of our information online, and that is increasingly where the debate takes place. So an effective lobbying campaign often also involves an active or interactive web strategy.