The evolving role of regional representations in Brussels

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

Brussels can be considered the world capital of lobbying for local and regional authorities, but the activities of their representations distinguish them from classic interest groups and lobbies, argue Michel Huysseune and M. Theo Jans of Brussels Studies.

Their research reveals that while regional offices were initially set up for a number of reasons – to seek EU funding, influence EU policy, respond to the impact of EU rules on their own powers or raise the international profile of their region – today they have “converged on a similar set of goals and activities.” 

Nowadays, regional representations are “a conspicuous presence in Brussels” as acknowledged partners of the European policy community, seeking to “inform, network, lobby, liaise and market for their regions,” observe the authors. Moreover, “the prevailing model is public”. 

They summarise the main functions of regional offices thus: “information management, networking, liaison between local and regional authorities and the EU and the influencing of EU policy.” 

Huysseune and Jans claim that these Brussels outposts are “crucial” for regional authorities because contact with the institutions allows them to obtain unofficial information on EU policy developments. This means the offices can develop lobbying strategies from an early stage. 

What’s more, although they play an important role in disseminating and providing the EU with information, regional representations “consider networking to be almost as important,” the research revealed. 

While establishing a Brussels office has become standard practice for European regions, the paper remarks, “formal recognition by and access to the EU institutions is limited” despite their considerable resources, the authors claim. Thus there is a tendency to pool “several offices in one common location” to integrate newcomers more quickly. 

This “trend towards generalised representation of regional authorities of member states” is leading to a “more limited […] representation of local authorities”. Moreover, regional offices consider the Committee of the Regions to be of “little importance” as far as influencing policy is concerned. 

The paper concludes that regional representations “are likely to be permanent fixtures in Brussels” due to “the diversified range of functions” they fulfil. It is this variety of tasks that makes them “relevant and useful to their home regions,” it adds. 

Moreover, they are here to stay because “their presence is not dependent on the availability of EU funds” or the political influence of the Committee of the Regions. 

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