PA manager: Mix between Brussels, national capitals key to EU lobbying

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National capitals are vital spheres of influence in EU decision-making and stakeholders “cannot afford not to lobby there” as well as in Brussels, Julia Harrison, managing partner of public affairs consultancy Blueprint Partners, told EURACTIV in an interview. 

Julia Harrison is managing partner at Brussels public affairs consultancy Blueprint Partners. 

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

We definitely need to take into account the fact that almost half the MEPs are newcomers. There will be lots of initial jockeying for attention and therefore a need for substance in interactions. 

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? 

A combination of EPP, ALDE and ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) would form an overall majority, which could make the new Parliament an easier playing field for companies and industry. 

This is not straightforward however: the EPP may be less instinctively pro-business now that the British and Czech conservatives have left, and ALDE are clear that they will not cooperate with any element which is not pro-European. 

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? 

We will need to find out in more depth where exactly these new groups stand and how seriously they have to be taken. In the past, some of the Eurosceptic groups/MEPs have been elected without being vocal or even present in the EP. 

The recent formation of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group will increase the right-wing Eurosceptic influence, but we should keep in mind that given its fragility, the group could collapse just as the Identity Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) group did in 2007. 

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

It is difficult to say at the moment since it partly depends on whether the ‘Barroso deal’ will work out for the parties involved, i.e. EPP (Barroso to be re-elected), ALDE (EP president), PASD (deal on issues?). 

We know that both ALDE and EPP have experienced conflicting internal opinions on certain issues in the past. This will most likely continue and provides fertile ground for issue-specific coalitions. Adding to this, we have already seen question marks arising concerning Partito Democratico’s integration into the PASD group. 

On the other hand, there are reasons to believe that EPP will be more coherent this time around following the departure of the UK Conservatives and a stronger Christian Democrat basis. 

All together, there is a good reason to believe a mix of ideology and issues in coalition-building will continue. 

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? 

Making sure that Europe gets out of the economic downturn will certainly be a priority over the next couple of years, as will mitigating climate change. It is also likely that the EU will have a strengthened global position in foreign policy, since the new US administration will seek broad agreements rather than taking their own path. 

A new narrative replacing the Lisbon Agenda could very well be the Lisbon Treaty, given the uncertainty that remains concerning its ratification. 

If it isn’t adopted, the EU must find other means to re-organise itself internally, and this could be a rather lengthy process. 

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? 

It is not a choice between Brussels and national capitals. In most cases, you need to have a mix. Brussels is a multinational arena where you have a great chance to impact decisions and we highly recommend everyone to be active here, but the national capitals remain important as well and you can not afford not to lobby there. 

Brussels is becoming more important and you need to be present in order to make a difference. Brussels is the home of the world’s largest press corps. Media work based in Brussels has a global outreach, and it is extremely important to interact with the correspondents and the media people within the EU institutions. 

It is also important to note that EU correspondents are the EU experts within their media organisations, and by making sure they understand your point of view, you are able to influence many people for a comparatively small cost. 

Member-state media work should, however, not be forgotten. Just as with lobbying, you need to be aware of the fact that both arenas can complement each other. 

In order to really make a difference, you need to be innovative and unexpected, while delivering all the necessary basic components effectively. Arranging events, blogging, networking etc. – the list is long, but everything depends on the specific needs of the client. Sometimes you really need to stand out, while on other occasions it’s better to be discrete. 

We always analyse our client’s needs in order to recommend the most effective communications activities to meet their objectives. Generalisation doesn’t work. 

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