Public Affairs in Europe: The Same Everywhere or Different?

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

“For public affairs practitioners to be truly effective, [they] must have a profound understanding of institutional and cultural differences,” argues Michael Burrell, vice-chairman of Edelman Europe and deputy chairman of the European Centre for Public Affairs (ECPA).

Consultancy work is not only about direct lobbying of decision-makers, but also “extends to mapping a wide range of stakeholders and devising appropriate means to engage in dialogue with them,” writes Burrell in an essay for the ECPA publication ‘The Future of Public Trust’, edited by Tom Spencer and Conor McGrath and introduced by EURACTIV. 

Lobbyists must take into account varying levels of influence within particular stakeholder groups, Burrell argues, citing the media as an example. 

Burrell observes that the “traditional print and broadcast media have relatively little influence in Italy, since so much of it is owned or dominated by Silvio Berlusconi”. In contrast, the UK media has “well-sourced reports […] and the ability to defeat well-resourced lobbying campaigns,” he continues. 

One factor preventing consultants from lobbying effectively is that they are “often barely conscious of [cultural] differences” from country to country. 

Burrell argues that for public affairs campaigns to be optimally successful, lobbyists must be sensitive to “national mores”. Otherwise, they “risk being branded as insensitive and even alien to national interests,” he warns. 

As for Brussels-based consultants, Burrell argues that practical experience of the EU policymaking process is crucial as it enables lobbyists to “advise on how reality may differ from what the textbook suggests”. 

For example, the Council and the Parliament are the only official legislators, but “the Commission plays a key role in floating ideas which may help the two other institutions to compromise,” the author recalls. 

For lobbyists to be truly successful, they must “demonstrate a clear understanding of this kind of process and the European culture on which it is based,” Burrell writes, concluding that effective lobbying requires an understanding of “differences [between] stakeholders and national traditions”. 

NOTE: Burrell argues that effective lobbying requires an understanding of the differences in national traditions in Europe. Should you wish to comment on the particularities of the lobbying scene in your own country, or should you wish to react to Burrell’s observations, feel free to share your views with others on Blogactiv by clicking the button below.

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