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Demystifying EU Institutions and EU Decision-Making

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Demystifying EU Institutions and EU Decision-Making

We continued our series of regular roundtables with a Public Affairs focused event in Brussels, where we were fortunate enough to welcome special guest speakers Erik Akse, Author, Trainer, Coach and Mentor and Alan Haracre, Author and Head of Corporate Affairs Strategy at Imperial Tobacco.

Alan and Erik presented the, recently published, second edition of their book: 'How the EU Institutions Work and... How to Work with the EU Institutions'. In which they have updated examples and illustrations, improving the practical usage of their guide and helping to further demystify EU decision-making processes.

The challenge of fast-moving digital communication
Attended by public affairs representatives from a wide range of companies, including consumer goods, manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, oil and gas, transport, tobacco and membership organisations, among others, we discussed the changing expectations of the Parliament and Commission since the Treaty of Lisbon, and how that has impacted lobbying in Brussels. Delegated Acts, non-legislative acts adopted by the Commission, and Trilogues, informal tripartite meetings attended by representatives of the European Parliament, were also in discussion. A comment was made on how the intuitions themselves had to cope with the new and extremely fast ways of communicating (digitally) while the conversations / considerations were ongoing internally.

A good lobbyist is in for the long game
Summing up, the impact assessment procedures are stretched in time, and a good lobbyist understands changes in legislation have to be followed for at least two years from the first idea to the final text. Put in parallel with press relations, one participant noted: “there is no quick win in public affairs.” But our authors countered that “evidence-based information can help institutions go faster in their decision-making”.

Compliance as a competitor advantage
Further in the discussion, an observation was made about the growing Compliance department, as regulatory compliance has become a competitive advantage in multiple sectors. These, along with a more complex technical content, have to be managed by public affairs teams, that tend to remain the same size. Another challenge for lobbyists!

Diverse difficulties
Around the table, a participant mentioned the uniqueness of Brussels in terms of press relations: there is no prominent Brussels’s media source, is there? Leaders and opinions makers come from various backgrounds and cultures, their channels of information seem to be as varied. This seem to result in a tougher task to develop strong press campaigns supporting public affairs purposes.

Internal influence
The discussion then shifted towards the questions: does the public affairs function have a sit or a say at the higher corporate table? All participants agreed that staying close to the business was the greatest challenge for a public affairs manager. Thus, all participants acknowledged that a significant portion of their time was dedicated to internal influence. There needs to be a strong buy-in from internal stakeholders for public affairs goals to be achieved. Most professionals observed that they spent a lot more time internally than externally, especially at the beginning stage of setting up a function. Great examples from diverse participants, from international companies to local ones, demonstrated the range of activities that needed public affairs support and the need to start with internal lobbying – certainly something other communication disciplines could identify with and learn from.

Moving forward, we hope to keep the conversation going on the further integration of public affairs and corporate communications. We enjoy hearing how different businesses embrace changes and how you shape your function to adapt, so please do feel free to ask questions and comment…

If you are interested in developing your career in communications, digital or marketing in Belgium or would like help to find the best talent in those areas, please call Willem de Ruijter on +32 (0)2 808 9016.