Business needs public affairs more than ever in downturn

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

In the current economic downturn, business needs public affairs “more than ever”, argues Tom Spencer, executive director of the European Centre for Public Affairs.

In a January briefing to mark the inauguration of new US President Barack Obama, Spencer writes: “I don’t believe that any of us fully understand what has happened [referring to the ongoing economic turmoil], but we rightly detect that a paradigm shift of some kind has taken place”. 

Public affairs professionals will need to “look around to see if there are opportunities for public affairs that did not exist in the fat years,” the former Conservative MEP asserts. “It helps if during the good times you were able to present public affairs as a long-term generator of value rather than being looked upon as a disposable cost centre,” he adds. 

Despite the poor economic climate, “the rapid culling of corporate priorities may surprisingly leave room for public affairs initiatives that did not stand out from the crowd but which now seem attractive and do not demand heavy financing,” Spencer writes. 

As for the year ahead, “European elections tend to leave a bad taste in the mouth for governing parties and the recession will still be at its grimmest in June,” warns the former MEP, predicting UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown will prefer to wait until the end of his government’s term in May 2010 to call a general election rather than hold the poll this autumn. 

Many policymakers in Europe are waiting for the Irish, Spencer says, but he questioned whether the Irish can be persuaded to vote for the Lisbon Treaty in October 2009. “We face the delightfully Irish problem that as they had no substantive reason for voting ‘no’ in the first place, it is quite difficult to offer them concessions to change their mind,” he warns. 

“The vote will be decided by the mood of the Irish in the autumn mists,” Spencer writes, declaring that the financial crisis has made EU membership seem “less of a frolic and more of a dire necessity”. “Ireland outside the euro might well have followed Iceland into the IMF dustbin”, he speculates. 

Finally, Spencer expresses his “immense affection” for current EU presidency holder the Czech Republic, describing Czechs as “talented, industrious and excellent diplomats”. He declares that “the Czech people do not deserve such a vain opportunist as [as President Vaclav Klaus] as the public face of their European identity”. 

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