Lobby chief: Lisbon Agenda failed to ‘dynamise’ European project

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The EU’s flagship Lisbon Agenda for boosting growth and jobs has failed to “dynamise and galvanise European forces” around the European project, José Lalloum, managing partner of Logos Public Affairs, told EURACTIV in an interview, calling for the strategy to be revived.

José Lalloum is managing partner of LOGOS Public Affairs, and has 18 years’ experience of lobbying in Brussels. He is also the chairman of EPACA, the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association. 

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

The key to the success of our approach is founded on three principle elements: building trust by adding value to the work of MEPs (this involves expertise, high ethical values and professionalism); being a provider of solutions in a consensus-based system, rather than a systematic opposition force; and anticipating societal changes and evolutions. 

The election results show that the European Parliament continues to be a multi-faceted, open and democratic institution. It will not change our approach from that point of view. 

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? 

It is of course early to say. The ambitions of this group are clear, and if one judges by the traditional activism of British MEPs in the European Parliament, it could make a difference despite its relatively modest size, and therefore become an influential component of the House’s political balance. 

The weakness may lie in its Euroscepticism, which will not help build consensus with other groups, and has already created tensions inside the group itself. 

So one scenario could be that the new conservative group does not manage to be more influential than the (ex) UEN; as a result, the split from the EPP-ED will only have led to a weakening of the British influence in the European Parliament with no benefit. To be followed. 

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? 

Nationalistic and fringe members of the European Parliament are usually fairly inactive on subjects of interest to our clients. There are only very few exceptions where members belonging to these categories can actually make a difference in the decision-making process on policy or legislative issues. 

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

One aspect is of particular relevance to clients of LOGOS Public Affairs. The environmental consciousness of voters has been shown with force during the elections. The concern of our citizens regarding our impact on the planet is growing. A blue (for the colour of the planet) awakening has started, and is accelerating. 

The release of ‘Hope’, a beautiful movie of soft propaganda by Yann Arthus Bertrand on the Friday before the elections, is a powerful illustration of how ecological messages will find an echo on the citizens’ votes. 

It would be dangerous to believe that the conjunction of the current economic downturn and the weakening of the Socialist vote will keep the European Parliament on the ‘business side’. 

The EPP-ED group will have to integrate the blue expectations of the EU citizens in its own choices. The political options on environmental protection of the Obama administration, or the Sarkozy government, also illustrate this evolution. 

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? 

The Lisbon Agenda should not be replaced, but furthered, and activated. In my view, the Lisbon Agenda has failed so far to serve its main purpose of ‘dynamising’ and galvanising European forces around a European project. We have not had a federal European project since Jacques Delors! So no wonder the turnout in the EU elections is so disappointing. 

There is a tremendous opportunity for the European Commission – and member states, which have not been willing to provide the Commission with adequate means – to revive the Lisbon Agenda. Its targets and goals are even more valid in the context of the economic downturn. The dimension should be broadened around policy steps to tackle climate change through a modernisation of our economy, which includes substantial effort on research, development, and technical ability. 

The need is therefore a reinforced Lisbon Agenda, as the driver of a European project to federate EU citizens, with a vision in terms of sustainable growth as an enabler of prosperity in Europe. 

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 national capitals? 

A combination of the above! Old and new media, including virtual communities, will increasingly be of interest for communication purposes, and laying the foundation of a campaign, but at the same time, nothing will replace the good old 30 minute face-to-face with the MEP! It depends, of course, on the nature (technical, political, ideological) of the dossier you are working on, and the kind of information you need to communicate. 

The sequence should be the following: define your issue and what is at stake, understand your environment, and articulate your commitment (what do you have to offer?), define your messages – and only then decide on the best way to inform decision-makers. 

This is the foundation on which LOGOS Public Affairs has helped clients to broker successful, workable outcomes on numerous pieces of legislation over the past 10 years. We are proud to have, at our humble level, worked to make the EU a better place, by encouraging business to commit, and by bringing solutions to the legislator. This being said, the means of communication are critical: it is not enough to be right – to be heard, you have to be seen to be right! 

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