Why Brussels is an essential part of a public affairs campaign
At the mere mention of public affairs or lobbying, my mind conjures up images of Big Ben and Prime Minister's Questions. But it seems this is an outdated perception.
These days most large corporations that need to communicate with governments must have two public affairs campaigns, one for Westminster and one for Brussels. Scott Dodsworth, director of parliamentary relations at defence company BAE Systems believes that "Integrated public affairs campaigns, linking PA professionals in Brussels and London, are often essential in navigating the regulatory environments at both a national and European level; this is especially true for many organisations where the regulatory output from Brussels has a direct impact on how a business functions at member-state level, as well as across Europe.”
In terms of the importance of Brussels, “the sheer power and breadth of Brussels should not be underestimated” says Russell Patten, CEO of PR firm Grayling in Brussels. “From regulation, to the financial crisis and the economy all the way through to social issues, I’d estimate that 50 to 75 per cent of the legislation at member-state level comes from Brussels.” For global issues, for example climate change legislation such as the Kyoto Protocol, Brussels is far more important than Westminster. Patten adds that, “Brussels is probably on a par with Washington when it comes to influencing global standard regulations. It just seems that politicians in Brussels are more aggressive and committed to environmental standards than anywhere else in the world.”
But what does this mean for communication professionals and CEOs who are concerned about the impact that political legislation might have on their brands? Has Westminster become a waste of time? Well the short answer is "no". Any large organisation will need to communicate with Brussels and Westminster. This will most likely need to be done separately, because the two parliaments look at different areas of legislation at different times. An example would be food labelling. A few years ago food manufacturers and supermarkets in the UK lobbied the UK government on the pros and cons of a setting up a traffic-light scheme that indicated the healthiness or otherwise of the food we buy. This legislation eventually went through to give us the labelling system we have today. The issue for the supermarkets and the food manufacturers is that Brussels is now going through this same communications process. So the same arguments need to be made all over again.
Unfortunately for corporations, regulation between Brussels and the member states can be both top-down and bottom-up. Therefore, it’s not a matter of needing to focus only in Brussels. Companies need to be aware of regulations going through both parliaments, assess the risk of that legislation to their business and decide how they should communicate. It should also be noted that there are examples of co-ordination between Brussels and member states. A recent example of this was the recent Equality Bill. New legislation was passed in Brussels and this was incorporated into the Westminster Equality Bill.