PA chief: Tories’ EU influence ‘to decline considerably’

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British Conservatives MEPs’ influence in the new European Parliament will “decline considerably” as a result of party leader David Cameron’s decision to pull them out of the European People’s Party (EPP), Elaine Cruikshanks, CEO of consultancy Hill and Knowlton’s Brussels office, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Elaine Cruikshanks is CEO of the Brussels arm of public affairs firm Hill and Knowlton. 

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 European Parliament? 

There have never been as great a number of new MEPs as after this year’s election. 

Naturally, this means a lot of work for consultants (some 40% of MEPs are new). It is part of our day-to-day job to closely observe these MEPs and assess their interests and attitudes, so as to make validated recommendations to our clients as to which ones are relevant to their issues. 

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? 

The British Conservatives have traded in an influential position within the European People’s Party (EPP) – the largest political group in the European Parliament and the winner of this year’s election – for the leading position in a group whose members do not seem to have much in common but their Euroscepticsm. 

Their influence will hence decline considerably. Before discussing possible cooperation with other groups, they will first have to find an internal agreement on a common line. I can see this being rather problematic. 

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? 

Identifying MEPs with an interest in receiving the specialist briefings that our clients can provide on certain issues thanks to their specific expertise is a consultant’s bread-and-butter-business, and we will keep on doing that. 

From past experience, however, it has to be said that those MEPs who have placed themselves on the fringes of the political spectrum are usually less open to an exchange of views, be it with lobbyists or with their fellow MEPs. As a consequence, they are hardly ever involved when deals are struck. I do not expect this to be much different in the new Parliament. 

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

Two new ‘ideological’ coalitions have already emerged – the former EPP-ED has lost its ‘democratic’ element – namely the ‘European Democrats’, whereas the European Socialists have now bonded with the Italian Democratic Party (which – needless to say – does not have anything in common with the European Democrats) and have formed the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats for Europe. 

For the forging of parliamentary majorities, however, I do not expect this to have much of an influence. This will continue to be issue-specific. 

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? 

When voicing its support for a renewed mandate of José Manuel Barroso as Commission president, the EPP called upon their candidate to “commit to a five-year legislative pact based on the main priorities of [its] Warsaw Manifesto: social market economy, security, subsidiarity, borders and a clear European identity”. 

This does not reflect much of the Lisbon Agenda. If Barroso wants to gain the necessary support of the European Liberals, he should think about adding issues such as competitiveness and a common policy versus legal immigrants and asylum seekers. 

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? 

Flagging a problem, proposing a solution and trying to generate support amongst decision-makers both in Brussels and in member states is at the heart of each lobbying campaign. 

Should this fail, one has to involve a wider audience. Depending on where the understanding for a position is lacking, such media work has to be undertaken in Brussels and/or selected member states. 

Other communication channels such as blogs or social media have to be considered, if the issue has the chance to mobilise a large number of individuals easily and hence provide politicians with an opportunity to profile themselves. 

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