PA chiefs see more ‘pro-business’ EU Parliament

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The new European Parliament is likely to be more pro-business and more industry-friendly, adopting a less ‘green’ stance on major policy issues than the previous legislature, public affairs bosses told EURACTIV ahead of its inaugural session in Strasbourg tomorrow (14 July).

“I expect the Parliament to become overall more pro-business and more industry-friendly,” Jacques Lafitte, founder of Avisa Partners, another Brussels-based consultancy, told EURACTIV. 

Pro-business coalition 

Foreseeing the emergence of a majority coalition in parliamentary committees between the European People’s Party (EPP), the Liberals (ALDE) and the new conservative group led by UK opposition leader David Cameron’s Tories on internal market, financial and economic issues, Lafitte said a similar consensus could also emerge on energy, research and industrial policy. 

“I would also expect the new Parliament to be a little less ‘greenish’, voting for milder environmental legislation,” he added. 

Similarly, Georg Danell, managing partner in the Brussels office of Kreab Gavin Anderson, foresees “a centre-right coalition on most business-related legislation between EPP, ALDE and [the conservatives],” while Julia Harrison of Blueprint Partners believes an alliance between the three “could make the new Parliament an easier playing field for companies and industry”. 

Others sounded a more cautious note, however. 

“A ‘blue’ awakening has started and is accelerating,” argues José Lalloum, managing partner at Logos Public Affairs, referring to increased awareness of climate issues. 

Lalloum believes concern among citizens about climate change and environmental degradation is growing, with the election results revealing beyond any doubt “the environmental consciousness of voters”. 

“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’,” he warned. 

‘Minimal’ impact of Eurosceptics 

Many observers dismissed suggestions that the new Eurosceptic group, ‘Europe of Freedom and Democracy’, will have a substantial impact on legislation. 

“[The group] contains only 30 members and is unlikely to make much impact at a legislative level,” according to Fleishman-Hillard Europe Managing Director Caroline Wunnerlich, who noted that the increase in the number of Eurosceptics, nationalists and fringe members was “not anything like as extensive as many had anticipated”. 

“Eurosceptics will continue to punch above their weight in media terms, [but] their real impact on legislation and the interests of our clients will remain minimal,” Wunnerlich told EURACTIV. 

Likewise, Avisa’s Lafitte believes “fringe parties won’t shape the political agenda”. 

“While [Eurosceptics] 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,” he said. 

“We will need to find out in more depth where exactly these new groups stand and how seriously they have to be taken,” added Blueprint’s Harrison. “In the past, some Eurosceptic MEPs have been elected without being vocal or even present in the Parliament.” 

UK Tories’ influence ‘to decline’ 

Meanwhile, British Conservative 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 EPP, according to Elaine Cruikshanks, CEO of consultancy Hill and Knowlton’s Brussels office (EURACTIV 29/06/09). 

Cameron has “traded in an influential position within the EPP […] for the leading position in a group whose members do not seem to have much in common but their Euroscepticism,” said Cruikshanks. 

Echoing this view, Lafitte believes it is a “safe bet” the Tories’ withdrawal from the EPP “will negatively affect their overall influence in the Parliament”. 

Cameron’s MEPs will sit in a new conservative grouping called the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR), which the Avisa chief describes as “anti-federalist, Atlanticist, socially conservative and economically liberal in outlook”. 

“They will be a bit isolated, but I still expect the EPP will need to rely on the ECR for pro-business majorities,” he said. 

New conservative group’s future ‘insecure’

Others stress that the political judgement of the ECR’s newest members is “yet to be tested”. “The [group] has started life in a precarious position and unless it is able to both broaden and deepen its support, its future will not be secure,” Fleishman-Hillard’s Wunnerlich told EURACTIV. 

Alleging that Cameron has “thrown away considerable UK influence in key committees,” the PA boss believes the “clear opposition” of some Tory MEPs to Cameron’s decision to form the new group may negatively impact upon its internal cohesion. 

“They know that the formation of this new group weakens their individual powers in the Parliament as well as those of their party and country,” said Wunnerlich, adding: “It is sobering to reflect on the fact that only 13 of the 72 UK MEPs now belong to one of the two largest parties in the Parliament”. 

José Lalloum, on the other hand, believes the “traditional activism” of British MEPs will help ECR members to wield considerable influence in the new legislature “despite its relatively modest size”. 

Provided that the ECR’s Eurosceptic element does not prevent the group from building consensus with others in the EU assembly, “it could […] become an influential component of the House’s political balance,” the Logos boss said. 

High-profile MEPs 

Others highlighted the likely impact of new, high-profile national politicians’ arrival in the EU assembly. 

“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,” according to Avisa’s Lafitte. 

The inaugural session of the new European Parliament will take place in Strasbourg this week. 

"There have never been as great a number of new MEPs as after this year's election," CEO of Hill and Knowlton's Brussels office Elaine Cruikshanks told EURACTIV in an interview. "

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," Cruikshanks said. 

Echoing this view, Fleishman-Hillard Europe Managing Director Caroline Wunnerlich said "it is obviously important to get to know new MEPs and develop an understanding of which ones will be key for our clients". 

"A sizeable vote for the far-left and right, or the promised return of over 100 anti-European Libertas MEPs, would have shaken up the Parliament dramatically, but the parties of the centre won this election decisively," Wunnerlich said. 

"Judging from the deals that are being rumoured about the presidency, committee chairmanships and vice-president positions in the Parliament, it seems probable that 'business as usual' will largely continue," she added. 

"The EPP 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," argues Laurent Chokoualé Datou, general manager of PR firm Edelman's Brussels office. 

"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," Datou told EURACTIV. 

"This is especially true in dossiers such as the carbon tax [and] reforming the governance of financial markets, […] and generally in any future discussion on 'Social Europe'," he said. 

As for the increased number of Eurosceptic MEPs, José Lalloum, managing partner of Logos Public Affairs, told EURACTIV that "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," Lalloum added. 

"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," observes Julia Harrison, managing partner at Brussels public affairs consultancy Blueprint Partners

Reflecting on the UK Conservatives' withdrawal from the EPP-ED group, Avisa Partners founder Jacques Lafitte said "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 or chairmen in key committees, they could be considered one of the most powerful national delegations in the Parliament". 

Georg Danell, managing partner in the Brussels office of Kreab Gavin Anderson, told EURACTIV that "it's interesting to note that it will be practically impossible to create a majority in the Parliament without the EPP". 

Nevertheless, "the ECR will most likely be the fourth-largest group and as such an important player," he added. 

"I expect the EPP and the Liberals to use the new strength of the centre-right to call for less red tape resulting from European legislation, and to make it easier for businesses and other organisations to operate in and across the EU," former MEP Michiel van Hulten of PA firm Burson-Marsteller said. 

The newly-elected European Parliament meets for its first session on 14 July and will likely elect its president on the same day. 

The 2009 European elections, held simultaneously in 27 countries for the first time in history, ended in a clear victory for the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and a defeat for the PES, or Party of European Socialists (see EURACTIV LinksDossier entitled '2009-2014: A centre-right European Parliament'). 

From 4-7 June, 375 million European citizens were called upon to vote for the 736 members who will represent them in the EU assembly until 2014. 

  • 14 July: New European Parliament meets for the first time in Strasbourg. 

PLEASE NOTE: EURACTIV published the full series of interviews with EU public affairs bosses for this week's Special Week on the new European Parliament. 

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