Tag: public affairs
Every year the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA) organises an essay contest for young Public Affairs professionals to discuss a topic of relevance to the industry. This year, EPACA wanted to know participants’ ideas on how to improve public trust in EU public affairs. A question key to Public Affairs professionals and which makes us rethink our relation to and responsibility towards a critical actor in European politics: the European people.
After all, EU citizens remain the pillar of the European Union. Their voice, whether it is dimmed or amplified by their national and European representatives, remains the fundamental source of legitimacy for any politician and stakeholder involved in politics. Indeed, without a certain level of approval from the European general public, individuals or organisations who want to impact on EU affairs loses significant support and credibility; and the more those are lost at the bottom, the more limited the effect at the top will be. Hence why public trust in EU public affairs is so critical, and why it is essential for businesses to keep thinking about what it takes to ensure and improve it. Our research executive Anne Sauviat was the winner of the EPACA Essay Competition and provided some answers to this challenging but crucial question.
How to improve public trust in EU public affairs?
To what extent are EU public affairs public? Which ‘public’ is actually encompassed under such appellation? These are important questions when thinking about the issue of public trust in EU public affairs for a reason: trust comes from a feeling of inclusion, which itself encompasses both a physical and symbolic dimension.
Apathy and skepticism have increasingly taken over public opinion on European politics. This mistrust is notably due to Europeans feeling alienated from a political environment and process they expect to be integral to. Yet, many perceive European politics as unreachable and incomprehensible conversations between political, economic and industrial elites. In this context, public affairs consultancies mainly appear as illegitimate intermediaries influencing EU politicians for private stakeholders ‘ interests.
Thus, building trust in EU public affairs necessitates overcoming the negative connotation they often assume. The notion and activity of lobbying should be brought back to its original meaning and purpose: providing decision-makers with practical information on topics they are not necessarily fully aware of, and informing them of the demands from the various groups of the civil society they represent. European public affairs would be better acknowledged if they were given a more ‘positive’ definition and if their relevance for both public and private entities were promoted.
Public trust also relies on the transparency of the information and services exchanged by the various actors (in)directly involved in the European political process. Giving accessibility to such data helps the public better understand and confide in the reliability of politically-invested individuals and organisations.
Finally, beyond the status of witnesses, European citizens should be more extensively and actively included in the public affairs debates. The new methods of communication and wide range of social media can significantly contribute to the ‘re-democratisation’ of European public affairs and their relative re-appropriation by the general public.
May 28, 2015
March was an interesting month, and for a minute it felt like Europe was the centre of attention for the entire world: President Obama visited Belgium for the very first time, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited numerous EU countries, and Brussels was busy with the preparations for the EU-Africa Summit scheduled for early April. March also saw several extraordinary Councils on Ukraine and an extremely rare NATO Summit under Article 4. The removal of Russia from G8 also put the spotlight on Brussels as the selected location of the next G7 meeting. Finally, the publication of the ‘satirical’ cartoon of Obama in the Belgian daily De Morgen also made international press headlines, turning the world’s attention to a country “famous for chocolate and beer”.
The end of March also witnessed one of the most interesting conferences on foreign affairs in Europe – the Brussels Forum, an annual high-level meeting of the most influential North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders. This year’s edition was spectacular and attracted an amazing crowd, including speakers such as Lady Ashton; Andrii Deshchytsia, Acting Foreign Minister, Ukraine; Heinz Haller, Executive Vice President at Dow Chemical Company; Toomas Ilves, President of Estonia; Vitalii Klychko, Chairman, Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms; President Herman Van Rompuy; Robert Zoellick, Chairman, International Advisors, Goldman Sachs and many others.
Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine
Although the Brussels Forum showcased a number of discussions on Belarus, emerging economies, Pakistan, Afghanistan, energy issues and China, they were definitely overshadowed by the recent developments in Ukraine. In fact, some of the attendees partook in the Council meeting or travelled from Ukraine and Georgia. This made the discussion at the Brussels Forum quite heated and sometimes personal towards Russian representation present in the room.
Photo: Ewa Abramiuk Lété
So why do people care so much about our Eastern neighbour? President Obama described it in his Brussels speech: “To be honest, if we defined our interests narrowly, if we applied a cold-hearted calculus, we might decide to look the other way. Our economy is not deeply integrated with Ukraine’s. Our own borders are not threatened by Russia’s annexation. But that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent”.
Ukrainians are currently preparing for the 25 May elections, which will be a crucial step towards leading the Ukraine out of the country’s deepest political crisis since 1991. “Our goal is to live in a new way. To form Ukraine in a way that there will be rich, free and honest citizens happy to be Ukrainians and to live in a country respected by the whole world,” said Petro Poroshenko, the current front-runner for the Ukrainian presidency.
So, it’s been an interesting month and some of the quotes above might spark further reflection. Most definitely March left us with a lot to consider.
Ewa Abramiuk Lété
*Photo: Ewa Abramiuk Lété
March 31, 2014
Two think tanks dominate the Brussels energy landscape, however the Brussels bunch still lag behind their American counterparts
It was the best of times, it was the burst of times
Last week, while discussing the merits of a newly released ‘2013 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report’ with my colleague James, he asked me whom I considered to be the most influential think tanks in Brussels when it came to energy policy?
Immediately I responded that it was either CEPS or Bruegel, depending on the issue and angle at hand. However, as the conversation progressed I noted to my surprise, that think tanks are not as influential in driving the Brussels agenda as their US counterparts.
So what defines an ‘influential’ think tank? Why are think tanks in Brussels less impressive than in the US? And why are CEPS and Bruegel more impressive than their peers?
Having studied at an American university, where a writing policy paper in an influential think tank was deemed second only to a high political posting in a student administration, I expected that the EU versions of Brookings, Carnegie and CATO would drive the policy debate, while also acting as something like ‘stop gaps’ for politically affiliated high achievers.
However, once in Brussels, I realized that the “think tank culture” is not as well developed as across the Atlantic. In a piece that stirred much controversy in the Brussels bubble a few years ago, the Charlemagne columnist for the Economist provided two very valid explanations 1) too many Brussels think tanks accept large chunks of their funding from EU institutions and national governments 2) Others depend on big corporate sponsors, so that the lines between research and lobbying become easily blurred.
Thus, the root of the problem from an EU perspective certainly does seem to be money, or rather the lack of ‘no strings attached’ money, which funds independent research in the USA. However, despite facing similar structural disadvantages, what is it that makes Bruegel and CEPS stand out from the crowd?
Granted both seem to be better funded than their peers. According to a Commission study conducted in 2012, CEPS and Bruegel have an excess budget of 6 and 4 million euros respectively. (In addition to public funding, their corporate donors can be accessed here and here).
In addition, both have a diverse funding base. A diverse funding base is seen as critical, as otherwise one may end up being overly reliant on one source; and however benevolent that one may seem on the face of it, it could create trouble at some point in time in the future. Nobody likes to bite the hand that feeds it. (A diagrammatic illustration of CEPS diversified funding sources can be accessed here)
However, I would argue that it is both their manpower and relevant expertise with the policy issues at hand that raises them above the rest. With a town that features more lobbyists than Washington, knowledge of the EU Energy & Climate policy agenda and being able to adapt ones research programme accordingly, is a key component for success.
Knowledge and adaptability are the weaknesses of CEPS’ and Bruegel’s competitors, since too often the temptation to overindulge in big picture of geo-political energy issues and report on conferences supersedes the need to provide insights and analyses of issues such as the ETS, 2030 Climate & Energy Package or Fuel Quality Directive, which are relevant on the ground and which all lobbyists in Brussels require.
Indeed, a well thought and timely idea can go far (note the explosion of the TED talks series). In addition, EU policymakers are always open to taking them on board. The most striking example in recent times was the Commission’s proposal to reform the EU carbon market, published on January 22nd. The proposal was largely based on the International Emissions Trading Association’s (IETA) consultation submission calling for the creation of an EU ETS structural reserve, with the deflationary and inflationary capabilities somewhat akin to what the European Central bank has on monetary policy.
Looking ahead, while the calendar of the institutions may be increasingly bare in advance of the upcoming elections, for think tanks, the next few weeks will be crucial. This week Bruegel will be hosting the new Directorate General of DG Energy Dominique Ristori on the ‘Instruments for Energy Transition’, while CEPS will be looking at the current ‘big issue’ on the policy agenda; drivers of energy prices for energy intensive industries.
Both events promise to be timely and relevant policy discussions, dealing with issues of priority for the Brussels energy agenda.
The top 5 Brussels think tanks on energy policy
- CEPS: The crème de la crème of Brussels energy think tanks. Very much on the pulse of the Brussels policy agenda, CEPS has particular expertise in climate change issues such as carbon pricing, carbon leakage and the drivers of energy prices.
- Bruegel: More hardcore economics based than CEPS, the reputable George Zachmann tends to focus on issues such as market design, renewable support schemes and the EU ETS.
- Friends of Europe: Its annual Friends of Europe Summit is probably the number one energy event in Brussels.
- German Marshall Fund: Coming from a foreign and security policy background, GMF is particularly strong on energy security aspects, hosts a number interesting workshops on energy security both the CEE and Baltic region.
- Institute Francais des relations internationals (IFRI): More an academic think tank than an advocacy one, it has a strong team of experts, providing geopolitical energy analysis.
(Think tanks without special energy practices excluded)
What is a thinktank?
For those who are interested in analysing the definition of ‘think tank’ Steven Boucher defines them as bodies which:
- are somewhat permanent;
- specialise in the production of public policy solutions;
- have in-house staff dedicated to research;
- produce ideas, analysis and advice;
- communicate its findings to policy-makers and public opinion;
- not be responsible for government operations;
- maintain research freedom and independence from specific interests;
- not grant degrees or have training as its primary activity;
- seek, explicitly or implicitly, to act in the public interest.
In addition, he specifically highlights four main types of think tanks:
- academic think tanks (or universities without students)
- advocacy think tanks (which McGann prefers to call “engagement” TTs)
- contract research organisations
- political party think tanks
Source: S. Boucher (ed.), Europe and its Think Tanks: A Promise to Be Fulfilled, Notre Europe, Paris, Studies and Research, no. 35, October 2004.
February 24, 2014
A few weeks ago, Aaron and I presented at the European Public Affairs Action Day, the “grand-messe” of public affairs professionals. We talked about different approaches to political communications and presented our 5 golden rules to political communications to win votes. For those who couldn’t join, here is a summary!
Aaron and I have been lucky to closely follow the recent reform of the European Common Fisheries Policy for the Swedish foundation BalticSea2020. After 2 years of intense campaigning, we could draw a number of conclusions from the success of the campaign (you can see what the campaign was about here).
What made this campaign different? How did we win? You learn a lot spending 17,520 hours campaigning on one issue, but I think it can be summarised into 5 golden rules.
The number of stakeholders in Brussels can be quite overwhelming – yet, once we had done the necessary background research and network analysis (a good book here on understanding the power of social networks), we were able to identify the maximum 200 people who mattered for our client’s issues, at the EU and national levels.
These are the ones we then focused on and built relationships with to create the broader winning coalition. Also, we realised it was not worth spending too much energy on the opponents, but rather help our supporters – which luckily we had with Fish For the Future, and also potential new followers.
This might sound simplistic, but understanding what makes people tick is your key to success. As Chris Rose explains in his book, you need to understand where your audiences are coming from and what will make them listen to you.
Being in the shoes of the politicians can be very useful – we are all too prone to use jargon and technicalities. To be fair to them, politicians cannot be experts in every issue they deal with on a daily basis, from banking regulation to horsemeat scandals and marine protected area. Being able to communicate important and useful information in a way they understand will make your contribution valuable and acted on. See here how fisheries can be made simple and sexy.
- Be Reactive and Adaptable
Although it was tempting to have a two year strategy plan, we have to admit that we don’t have a crystal ball and we are not psychic. Instead, we had rolling three-month action plan which allowed us to regularly review our short to mid-term strategy, adapt to new opportunities, and adapt our work. The ability to adapt and react to changing situations allowed us to remain relevant to our audiences. It also allows any client to have a clear picture of how things really are progressing.
As Aaron likes to say: “telepathy doesn’t work”. You need to get out there, talk to the people who matter, hear their questions and answer them in an understandable way. We were lucky enough to have a client who was an excellent spokesperson for his organisation.
You need someone who can gather support, motivate and convince. Some people are naturally more at ease talking on behalf of their companies. In truth, with a small amount of coaching, most people can become persuasive advocates for their interests.
- Invest the Necessary Resources
Success requires resources: time, people, and money. It requires commitment and endurance. But, it is all worth it to win a vote
Sophie and Aaron
February 12, 2014
If Davos made people ‘feel like a kid-in-a-candy shop’, then the Energy Forum in Sopot, Poland triggered the same feeling among energy geeks. This year’s edition was held on 16-18 December 2013, and featured debates about about energy situation in Central Europe, the outlook for gas markets in Europe, the role of renewables in the national energy systems and how Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ will impact neighbouring countries. One could learn about the electricity grids between Lithuania and Poland; which direction Ukraine looks when it comes to its energy policy and how the Norwegian energy system influences Central Europe. Participants also discussed ‘local’ issues such as the role of coal, shale gas and nuclear energy in the Polish economy.
The event was a great opportunity to have a quick ‘crash course’ on what the Polish energy system currently looks like and what we can expect in the coming years. You can find some of the presentations and materials here.
Did you know?
- At the beginning of 2014, Poland will publish its 2050 energy strategy, which will showcase the direction the country would like to take in the next 30+ years. While details remain unknown, shale gas and trans-border gas connections will be featured. Security of supply will be also included in the strategy;
- In 2014, The Polish National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management will distribute 240 million Euro to support development of renewable energy in the country;
- In 2014 Poland may obtain 202 million Euro from the sale of CO2 emission rights, while in 2015 this figure could rise to 245 million Euro;
- The three biggest suppliers of electricity in Poland predict a 6 percent drop in the price of electricity in 2014;
- Polish shale gas regulation will most probably be sent for consideration to the Council of Ministers at the beginning of 2014;
- By the end of next year, Gas Transmission Operator Gaz-System will allocate 192 million Euro into the expansion of Polish gas infrastructure;
- A new Polish Law on Renewable Energy will come into force at the beginning of 2015.
And finally next year Poland and nine other Eastern European Counties will celebrate their 10th anniversary of EU accession. Much has changed since that time and countries are still very busy with improving their energy systems, ensuring security of supply and working out their own energy path.
January 10, 2014
Industry fights on fact, loses on emotions in Brussels. Just contrast the latest NGO campaign you’ve come across to that bland position paper (see here) you just wrote that ‘welcomes the Commission’s proposal’ and then lists all the facts that make it a complete disaster for your industry. Yet while many public affairs professionals understand that to win a debate emotion is as important as logic, as soon as it is suggested that emotion may be deployed in their advocacy panic sets in. So what’s to be frightened of in arguments that seek to illicit an emotional as well as logical response?
First of all, fear itself. When consultants, including this one, show examples of emotion being used it is generally campaigns that stoke fear of some kind. For a bunch of people trying to save the planet/children/future, NGOs tend to use fear a lot; fear of the unknown, fear of chemicals killing your children or fear the world’s going to end sooner rather than later. Many industries’ only emotional angle is to talk of industries closing and jobs leaving. Yet even in this they are timid. When I see an industry do something like create a line of jobless Europeans from the Berlaymont to the Spinelli building I’ll know they’ve got it. The problem is industry never will. Fear does not resonate with the corporate brand the CEO is trying to engender. Too much fear risks spooking shareholders and unnerving customers. We are about to be put out of business is not great for the share price.
Unhappily, as fear is the emotion banded about most, this causes many public affairs professionals to shun any kind of emotional line of argumentation.
Secondly, facts get in the way. Many of the public affairs professionals in Brussels come from organisations where the predominant culture is people who like either numbers or science. These folks natural tendency is to look at the data and build up to a message. Naturally, this makes the arguments developed factual ones. Dry. Unemotional. Facts. Facts are important, and should remain so. I don’t see an argument not supported by them ever winning. But they are necessary, not sufficient to win. The flipside of the coin would be to find an argument that convinces people and then find the facts to support it. It’s no less factual, just more likely to convince.
So what can you do? Next time you are devising your next position paper, letter, or preparing a meeting ask yourself the following questions:
- What do you want your audience to know?
- What do you want your audience to think?
- What do you want your audience to feel?
- What do you want your audience to do?
They may help you structure your argument in a way that takes the audience through awareness to understanding and then belief and action. To help with the feel question, here’s a list of emotions that may provide inspiration. As while fear may be used, things like hope may be better placed to meet your organization’s goals. And remember, hope has been known to win things like elections. Emotion. Yes, we can.
December 3, 2013
Gone are the days where Public Affairs took place in a vacuum. Increasingly, the work of PA professionals must be conducted within the prism of an organisation’s or industry’s broader reputation. This was the message of my presentation at the 2013 European Public Affairs Action Day, now a permanent fixture of the PA calendar.
Speaking at the 21 March event organised by the Parliamentary communications and political information firm, Dods, I explored, through 10 principles and 10 ideas, the way in which PA can adapt to this new paradigm. Admittedly, it’s a tough nut to crack in Brussels as actual reputation management tends to be beyond the remit of Public Affairs. There are however a number of things PA pros in Brussels can do either to mitigate a poor reputation, or harness a good one. Take a closer look at the presentation below.
View the presentation here: EPAD – March 2013
Of particular note, allow me to introduce FH’s “Authenticity Gap” research showing the difference between expectations and experience in the 9 areas we’ve identified as the DNA of authenticity (and thereby trust).
March 26, 2013
Davos_Vista (Photo credit: aschaefer77)
Davos is a nirvana for public affairs junkies like me. On arriving, I faced the kid-in-the-candy-shop syndrome: which sweetie jar should I dip into? Aside from the obvious keynotes (David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Dmitri Medvedev, Christine Lagarde, Mario Draghi, Henry Kissinger) which sessions should I be attending? The session on digital infrastructure or on the role of banks in the real economy? Or on social issues of youth unemployment, ageing preparedness or gender balance? Or on global risks – food security, energy security and cyber security? The choice is endless at a forum where all the issues affect one or other of our clients or are simply issues you care about as a citizen. By the end my WEF moleskin notebook was bursting.
Much is reported through the press, but I came away with three key ‘notes to self’. The first is that the immediate Eurozone crisis may be over, but there is a long road ahead. Critical policy measures and reforms need to be implemented, not just promised; and low hanging fruit needs to be effectively captured, notably the completion of the single market particularly in services and energy, the pursuit of bilateral free trade agreements and the rationalization of the EU budget, before the Eurozone can expect growth. In the meantime road bumps can still be expected, not least with Italian and German elections this year and the uncertainty of the UK referendum looming. Christine Lagarde of the IMF and others warned repeatedly against any hint of complacency.
The second is that the US was notably absent from the political keynote stage (barring the WEF old faithful, Henry Kissinger.) This is understandable given the timing of the inauguration of Obama’s second term, but it also hinted at the fact that the US is pulling back from the international stage to focus on domestic issues. The boost from shale gas to domestic production and energy cost reduction and the US’ desire to be more energy self-sufficient came up regularly in conversation.
The third is that Asia and Africa are active and increasingly engaged in world affairs: the former had leading senior officials, academics and business people on many panels, and there was much celebration of Africa’s growth of 6% and promise of more to come.
Beyond the dense content, there is also the PA celebrity factor that makes Davos special. Not footballers or popstars, but the people I get really excited about seeing live in action, such as the prime ministers of Italy, Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland together on a panel debating Europe. And later I witnessed EP President Martin Schulz at a single lunchtime roundtable with UK Finance Minister George Osborne, Commissioners Almunia and Rehn, German vice-Chancellor Roessler and former EU High Representative Javier Solana…all addressing ways to stimulate Europe’s competitiveness. As one speaker put it, we know what needs to be done, we just don’t know how to do it!
Key media editors such as Martin Wolf of the FT were omnipresent, busy chairing discussions. Others participated in debates such as the ‘From Tabloid to Tablet’ session with Stephen Adler of Reuters, John Gapper of the FT and Richard Edgar of ITV News, looking at the future of traditional media in the online world. The conclusion, happily, was that quality journalism with its verified facts, critical judgment and analysis still has an important place in an era of information overload.
NGOs of all kinds were active and engaged: Huguette Labelle of Transparency International had particular prominence as one of the Co-Chairs of the WEF 2013 meeting. And Transparency was a key theme running through the speeches of both David Cameron and Christine Lagarde in both political and economic contexts.
Last but not least, the Magic Mountain was bestowed with glints of royal glamour as I caught sight of Prince Andrew, HRH the Duke of York, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium, and Crown Prince Hakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, all actively representing their countries, causes and charities.
The dimensions of Davos are hard to describe, with so many leading figures from all parts of the world gathered for an intense five days. The event admittedly comes in for much public scrutiny and criticism on many levels, but my sense is that the veil of secrecy is beginning to lift as WEF faces its own Transparency debate, reconciling its Chatham House rules with the legions of Tweeters from the conference. On the other hand it reminded me how fortunate those of us are who work in public affairs. While many people go to Davos for an annual fix, those of us engaged in public affairs in Brussels on behalf our clients are effectively surrounded by these global debates, personalities and interest groups on an ongoing basis. Perhaps that is why I felt so at home in Davos.
January 28, 2013
In the week before Christmas we brought together a selection of Brussels’ trade policy community to discuss the EU’s future role and relevance in the in the global trade system. FH Brussels’ Senior Policy Advisor and former Counsellor at the Danish Permanent Representation, Martin Bresson took the chair on this provocative topic and invited representatives from both inside and outside of Europe to comment on whether the EU will continue to be a global trade leader, and more importantly, how this can be ensured.
Our speakers; Ms. Signe Ratso, Director for Trade Strategy and Analysis, as well as Market Access at the European Commission’s DG TRADE; Ms Carolyn Irving, Trade Counsellor at the Australian Mission to the EU; and Mr Luciano Mazza de Andrade, Head of Trade and Economic Section of the Brazilian Mission to the EU; first explored the EU’s current role and status as an important global trading partner.
While it was acknowledged that Europe has faced economic difficulties that could be seen as threatening to this status, we were reminded that the EU remains one of the largest and most diverse economies in the world, the largest importer of many global goods and services and an important source and destination for investment. Furthermore, the EU has the ambition and political capacity to push the free trade agenda – the success of the EU-Korea FTA being an important example, as well as numerous others in the pipeline which are projected to add over 2% to GDP and create more than 2 million jobs.
Similarly, Europe’s trading partners around the table echoed the continuing relevance of the EU, insisting on symbiotic nature of trading partners – that each economy’s health is reliant on others.
However, challenges certainly remain that may be hampering the realisation of the full benefits of global trade. One concern was the complexity of the EU’s political structure and ambitious regulatory agenda, which can bring rigidity to trade processes and positions. A further specific example is Europe’s protective position on agricultural markets; a topic that it was humorously noted is often ‘politely ignored’ in trade discussions. Challenges for business focused on more detailed issues; namely the enforcement of FTAs once implemented and regulatory cooperation with trading partners to increase business certainty.
Despite the challenges of the EU’s complex institution structure and politics the resounding message was that the EU continues to be more than the sum of its (27) parts and has a role, if not an obligation, to continue leading on the global trade agenda. That being said, it will be necessary for the EU not to lose sight of the details which can trip up trade even in the context of the broadest and most comprehensive FTA.
Fred & Ed
January 3, 2013
Last week saw a veritable festival of events here at Fleishman-Hillard Brussels. We held a discussion on climate change and energy with NGOs on Wednesday as well as a talk from our very own DC colleague Bill Black on how the Presidential candidates in the US are using digital tools in this week’s election on Monday. For the US election event our own digital strategist Steffen Thejll-Moller sought to bring us down to earth by explaining how some of the principles of the digital approach employed by the candidates could be used here in our EU public affairs setting.
Surprisingly given last week was a school holiday and interrupted by a ‘pont’ in the shape of the 1 November on Thursday, we had a packed house for both events. If you were one of the few to escape the Brussels dark grey, here’s the slides from Bill that had attendees from industry, political parties and the EU institutions glued to their seats.
If you’re interested in future FH Brussels events, go to this page and add the RSS feed to your reader. We would be happy to have you along.
November 5, 2012