EU lobbying by third countries

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

Governments are increasingly turning to PR companies to improve public perception of their activities. But in a world of round-the-clock media coverage any inaccuracies in such information are spotted fast, writes Andreas Geiger of Brussels law firm Alber & Geiger in an exclusive commentary for EURACTIV.

This commentary was sent exclusively to EURACTIV by Andreas Geiger of Brussels law firm Alber & Geiger.

"All around the world national governments are increasingly turning to external support to affect public perception, drop a hint to push interests or win audiences with policy leaders.

The same is happening in the EU. Third country governments are increasingly trying to position themselves not such much with the EU member states but with the EU institutions in Brussels.

But in the world of 24/7 media coverage and the growth of powerful technologies, any wrong piece of information is being disclosed very fast. Thanks to Facebook, Google and Wikileaks, a 'Wag the Dog' storyline does not work any more. A lie is easily disclosed as a lie. And if this happens, the results are not only counterproductive – they are disastrous.

The Americans have a nice way of putting this in Washington. They call such PR work 'painting lipstick on a dictator'. Propaganda comes close to it. Neither of it works in the long run nowadays.

Furthermore, today any PR activity is under time limit pressure not to miss the first showing. Hence, PR campaigns almost always originate with poor planning, have short-term effects and unpredictable subsequent judgements. It is doubtful whether an integral role of priming and framing is being secured too. 

Today, only scrutinised and deliberative lobbying representation may achieve the ultimate goals of any government. And ensure sustainable development.

First, convince EU decision-makers of your government's goals and why they should trust in you. Then the media. Never the other way round. Campaigning will lead you nowhere. Your counterpart is not stupid.

Like all lobbying work, foreign government lobbying needs to look at long-term development in Europe. Strategies for long-term changes need to be dealt with extensively.

Local realities are multiform, dynamic and unpredictable. Every socioeconomic issue is different and needs close monitoring. Therefore, lobbying work has to be adopted for each place individually taking into account political, social and cultural factors.

Second, an avenue to success takes time as there are no shortcuts. Values and economic development rely on states and individuals changing their views and habits. Only commitment from both sides for many years may hit the target. It involves, at least, careful planning, research, coordination and follow-up.

Last but not least, it is not possible to measure empowerment on a single scale. Each case is special and takes different milestones. As a result, EU lobbyists have to invest high-end political access and knowledge, time and energy in respectful dialogue with the EU's political decision-makers.

Offering a sunny image that leaves out much of the story just undermines the credibility of both the messenger and protégé. As we have just seen with Libya and Egypt. But the latest events in the Middle East should serve as the final kick-start for foreign governments to take the right decision when seriously lobbying the EU."

Dr Andreas Geiger is an attorney at law and managing partner of lobbying law firm Alber & Geiger in Brussels.

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