The new European Parliament is likely to be ‘more pro-business’ and more industry-friendly’, adopting a less ‘green’ stance on major policy issues, Jacques Lafitte of consultancy Avisa told EURACTIV in an interview, predicting that a new majority coalition will emerge between the EPP, ALDE and the new conservative group.
Jacques Lafitte is a partner and the founder of Avisa Partners, a Brussels public affairs consultancy.
How do you expect the election results to change your approach to working with the European Parliament?
With the European elections, the balance of power in the Parliament has shifted to the right, the centre-left PES [Party of European Socialists], now called PASDE [Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in Europe] has been weakened and ALDE will remain crucial as the assembly’s swing-group.
The shift towards the right will have an impact, but the new Parliament’s composition will not be totally different from the last one. However, the distribution of posts within the Parliament will be critical. Who will become committee chairman, coordinator or rapporteur on issues we are following matters a lot.
Also, a number of high-profile national politicians, like Guy Verhofstadt or Rachida Dati and maybe some former commissioners, will be sitting in the new Parliament. If these heavyweights become active and hold important posts, this could impact upon the relationship between the Parliament and the other institutions.
But I expect that it will be the Lisbon Treaty – which we expect to enter into force later this year – which will have the most impact on lobbyists’ approach to working with the Parliament.
The new treaty confers more powers on the Parliament and places it almost on equal footing with the Council, giving it a bigger say on policy areas where it previously had little influence, such as agriculture or justice and home affairs. Under the Lisbon Treaty, Parliament would also enjoy full parity on setting the EU budget.
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 Tories were influential in the EPP-ED and thanks to a high number of important posts, generously allocated to the Tories in order to keep them happy in the group, such as coordinators and chairmen in key committees, they could be considered one of the most powerful national delegations in the Parliament. It is a very safe bet that the Tories’ decision to pull out of the EPP-ED will negatively affect their overall influence in the Parliament.
The new ‘mildly’ Eurosceptic group, the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR), led by the UK Tories, will be the Parliament’s fourth largest. Broadly speaking, it will be anti-federalist, Atlanticist, socially conservative and economically liberal in outlook. On a range of issues they will be a bit isolated, but I still expect the EPP will need to rely on the ECR for pro-business majorities.
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?
It’s true that far right, Eurosceptic or outright ‘Europhobic’ parties made gains in a number of member states. However, while they will be ‘making noise’ by focusing on single issues such as EU integration or immigration, they are usually not very influential on concrete policies which might affect issues relevant for clients.
Unlike the mainstream groups, fringe parties won’t shape the political agenda. Therefore I don’t expect that the increase of Eurosceptic members will change my approach to working with the Parliament in the next legislative term.
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 would expect that in the next Parliament, coalitions will continue to be shifting and issue-specific. However, I also expect the Parliament to become overall more pro-business and more industry-friendly.
There could be a majority coalition between the EPP, ALDE and a new conservative group on internal market, financial and economic issues in the ECON and IMCO committees. A similar coalition could emerge in the ITRE committee on energy, research and industry policy issues.
I would also expect the new Parliament to be a little less ‘greenish’, voting for milder environmental legislation, although a stronger Green/EFA group will certainly counter-balance industry’s influence and environment-friendly MEPs from all groups within ENVI.
On the other hand, I would also expect from the new Parliament a more liberal stance on issues such as civil liberties, data protection or immigration in the LIBE committee and a consumer-friendly coalition in IMCO, involving the PES/PASDE, ALDE and Green/EFA groups.
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 Strategy, launched in 2000, has failed to meet its objectives by 2010. But the basic goal of the Lisbon Strategy – jobs, a knowledge-based economy and growth – will remain on top of the agenda in times of financial and economic crisis, way beyond 2010. A ‘new narrative’ which complements rather than replaces the Lisbon Agenda would be: sustainability and cutting-edge technologies for the creation of jobs and a low-carbon economy.
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?
Lobbying must of course primarily take place in Brussels, if it targets MEPs or the Commission, although certain issues also require action and contacts in national capitals, when it involves specific issues in member states.
National media are still the primary source of information for most politicians and citizens alike. Concerning European issues, I would primarily recommend targeting EU correspondents and only in selected cases the editors in the member states.
Regarding communication channels, I would expect that online media services, like EURACTIV, which is mainly read by experts and Brussels insiders, are becoming more and more influential, but have not yet replaced the classic print media such as the FT, The Economist and other large national newspapers when it comes to informing the public about EU affairs.