PR boss: More scope for ‘ideological coalitions’ in new Parliament

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The large number of European People’s Party MEPs, the heightened position of the Greens and the “strengthened infrastructure” of the Eurosceptics mean that the scope for forging ideological coalitions will increase in the new EU assembly, Laurent Chokoualé Datou of PR firm Edelman told EURACTIV in an interview.

Laurent Chokoualé Datou is general manager of the Brussels office of Edelman, a PR firm. 

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

Many seasoned public affairs professionals will have lived through and painlessly adapted to the results of several EU elections. This one will be no exception. Indeed, there will be changes in faces and roles in the coming weeks and months, but these election results do not in my opinion fundamentally impact the approach one will and should follow in opening and maintaining a dialogue with individual parliamentarians. 

If there should be gradual changes in practices, they would possibly be driven by calls and efforts to instil more lobbying transparency, as already initiated at the end of the previous legislature. 

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? 

This is an interesting question given the relative influence that the British Conservative group had within the EPP in the past. As for its future influence, it remains to be seen how the heterogeneous ECR Group holds together on key dossiers, especially and perhaps ironically where specific national interests will be at stake. 

The personality of the future group leader and the likely advent of a Tory leadership in the UK will no doubt be decisive factors in this respect. 

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? 

I do not expect this factor to impact a lobbying approach in any particular way. Arguably (and more so perhaps than previously), these particular parliamentarians will be organised in political groups in the same way as some of the leading EP political formations and they will be approached with that in mind. That being said, the devil will as always be in the detail… 

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

The former ALDE leader, Graham Watson, has advocated the building of ideological alliances, based on programmes as opposed to “technical arrangements”. Clearly, the EPP-ED and PES have a long-standing track record of striking technical compromises across the apparent left/right divide. 

Many observers tend to think that this will continue, and the fate of the rotating EP presidency will be an important indicator as to whether or not this holds true. 

I tend to believe that the scope for ideological coalitions will increase partly due to the sheer size of the EPP Group, the heightened position of the Greens and the relatively strengthened ‘infrastructure’ of the Eurosceptics. This is especially true in my view in dossiers such as the carbon tax (as and when it comes up) or reforming the governance of financial markets, for instance – and generally in any future discussion on ‘Social Europe’. 

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? 

On the assumption that his appointment is confirmed, the fact that all 27 member states leaders have backed José Manuel Barroso will probably mean that current EU priorities will be furthered more or less as we know them. 

Issues such as the reform of financial supervision or the fight against climate change will continue to feature high on the agenda (some might say to the detriment of more social welfare-oriented support policies designed to help weather the impact of the global financial crisis). 

I expect some of the ‘buzzwords’ of the five-year agenda to include variations around the themes of Europe’s global leadership in: 

1) Defining a common path for a crisis exit strategy based on a new governance paradigm (understand a refreshed legitimisation of regulation), and; 

2) Defining (European) competitiveness against the objectives of securing technologies and jobs inherent in a carbon-free socio-economic future. 

Given the election participation scores, one would expect that the proverbial goal of getting the EU closer to its citizens would once again be highlighted. How this materialises this time is anyone’s guess! 

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?

Obviously, and to the extent possible, a joined-up approach will always be preferable. The accuracy of the information and data supplied, the ability to bring in grassroots/real-life perspectives to an oft-technocratic discussion should suffer no geographical constraint. 

Again, a joined-up approach to media work is preferable. The size and diversity of the Brussels press corps does, however, offer opportunities to focus efforts in Brussels if necessary.

As for other communication channels to be recommended, simply looking at the rising number of MEPs using blogs and social media such as Facebook and Twitter, it is clear that the ‘Conversation Age’ is well upon us. I anticipate that we will see significant developments on this front in the next five years, with far more interaction among stakeholders across borders and an increasing number of online, interactive opinion relays and coalitions all ultimately aiming and competing to shape the dominant opinion. Embracing those channels will be material to success in many instances going forward. 

And the question of proving trustworthiness and securing ‘trust’ will become even more central because of sheer exposure and interactivity. I therefore suspect that ‘brick and mortar lobbying’ will ignore the power of social media at its own risk. 

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