February 20, 2017
The following article was selected among the best from Christophe Leclercq’s seminar “EU Reporting on Expert Debates”, which he teaches at ULB together with Director of the Institute for European Studies Ramona Coman. The course is part of the The Executive Master in European Union Studies (MEUS).
On October 19, 2016, on the occasion of their first anniversary in Brussels, the consulting firm Red Flag organized a debate where a number of lobbyists discussed Industry’s role in policymaking. Red Flag presented the findings of their research into lobbyists’ access to policymakers, following the implementation of the new inter-institutional agreement on the Transparency Register.
While celebrating their first year in Brussels, the consulting firm Red Flag, specialized in Strategic Communications and Government & Public Affairs, provided an audience composed mainly of lobbyists with the results of its recently conducted peer-research. They gathered intelligence from the lobbying community on topics including transparency expectations versus realities, the effect of the Transparency Register on lobbying, what exclusion looks like, and finally how industry lobbying compares to NGO lobbying.
These research results served as a trampoline for the debate moderated by James Panichi from MLEX Brussels. The panel was composed of Seamus Conboy, Director of Red Flag, Rui Faria da Cunda, Society of European Affairs Professionals, Daniel Freund, from Transparency International and finally John Collins, from the American Bankers Association.
The research revealed interesting trends. Indeed, “96% said there has been a negative shift in perception of Industry in recent years” while the voice of NGO lobbying is regarded more positively. The push for transparency has emphasized this shift and has also exposed lobbyists’ fear that their access to policymakers will be tougher in the future. Exclusion is also considered.
While accepting the importance of lobbying, Daniel Freund of Transparency International affirmed that ethical lobbying is necessary. This would entail strict adherence to rules including revealing who firms are representing as well as a workable register of lobbyist.
Generally, the debate and the following Q&A session further exposed the difference between perception and reality concerning the access to policymakers by industry on the one hand, and NGOs on the other. While industry may be well-funded and benefit from most of the face-time with policymakers, NGO lobbying is more results-oriented and relies more strongly on social media to affect change.
The debate ended with a consensus: the only way to ensure policymakers do not legislate in a vacuum is to provide them with information issued through ethical lobbying which meets transparency rules that are fair to all.