Although the corporate lobby scene in Brussels is a very complex and nebulous world, researchers and pro- transparency organisations have started to cut through the veil of secrecy to reveal how these lobbies go about their daily business.
Below is a slightly tongue-in-cheek list of tactics corporate lobbyists use.
Tactic 1: REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT
Repeat your message via as many channels as possible to build credibility and create the illusion of a general consensus on the issue.
Make sure to present your policy input, ideas and wishes to Members of the European Parliament as well as EU staff and officials in meetings, consultations and correspondence. In-house lobbying aside, also join forces and resources in industry lobby associations and pay huge sums to specialised lobby consultancies and law firms which also represent your interests and thereby boost your influencing prowess.
Hide your profit motives:
Want to disguise your lobbying activities?
Worried that policy makers might spot your profit motives if you put forward your own arguments? Then set up a front group to argue your case for you – or even better, persuade an NGO to campaign on your behalf.
Get legitimacy via a think tank:
Channel your message through a well-established think tank to give it legitimacy. Many of the numerous Brussels think tanks depend on corporate funding and offer business sponsors a range of services in return. Some will even give you a prominent role in panel discussions on issues of your choice, others publish customised reports in return for cash. Exploit those ideological biases of the Brussels bubble!
Co-opt science for your cause:
Do everything to protect your products against legal restrictions or bans. You can initiate and monitor public-private research projects to generate favourable study data, fund scientists to echo your messages as third party voices and hire product defence companies to cast doubt on unfavourable, independent study findings.
Tactic 2: Throw money at it
Money plays a central role in many lobbying activities, and certain Members of the European Parliament may open up to your agenda over a lavish breakfast, dinner or cocktail party, during an all-expenses paid trip (to overseas offices, factories, energy plants …) or after receiving a gift.
Outspend your opponents: In many lobby battles, profit-centred corporate interests are pitted against the public interest. But you usually have much more money to spend on lobbying and influencing public opinion than your opponents. So do it! Increase your spending further around important lobby battles to help cement opinions of the public and policy-makers in your favour.
Tactic 3: Gain access to policy-making
Be an expert:
The Commission has over 1,000 advisory groups to provide it with topical expertise on new policies to make up for the lack of topical in-house know-how. Many of these groups are dominated by industry representatives. Make sure you, too, are on such an expert group, since that gives you privileged access to the policy-making process: after all, these advisory groups often put forward the first draft proposals for new EU laws and policies.
Lend a hand:
Life as a Member of the European Parliament is hard. So lend a hand and provide concrete policy inputs in the form of amendments to draft legislation. Perhaps get a law firm to write these for you so they look as professional as possible and allow Members to pass them off as their own.
Nurture your relationships:
Get the time and attention of Members of the European Parliament (and their staff) and nurture informal relations by setting up your own MEP- industry forum. Such ‘neutral’ cross-party groups help build relationships with MEPs and establish your presence in the European Parliament.
Get your foot in the door – literally:
Whether a promotional exhibition or an informative networking evening, use official EU institution buildings to organise your event. Your targeted invitees will almost feel like it’s an internal affair.
Headhunt ex-EU officials and MEPs:
Commission officials, MEPs and MEP advisers are all in demand – put in your bid to hire them and exploit their contacts and insider knowledge to boost your influencing power. This ‘revolving door’ swings both ways, with EU institutions also hiring ‘policy experts’ who have had careers in the very same corporate sectors they are then tasked to help regulate.
By 2017, more than one out of every three ex-Commissioners who left the European Commission in 2014 had gone through the revolving door into private sector jobs, which in many cases involved lobbying. The biggest revolving door scandal to date broke when former European Commission President José Manuel Barroso joined investment bank Goldman Sachs, which had been at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis and still lobbies against stricter regulation of the financial industry. If Goldman Sachs can do it, you can do it!
Tactic 4: Delay and distract
Bury unwanted measures in process:
To stop a new piece of legislation you can always try to delay or weaken the proposals. Argue that more study data or evidence is needed, advocate for setting up a special task force, or propose a voluntary business code of conduct instead of the new policy.
Scaremonger about job losses:
Warn the Commission and MEPs that the policy proposal that are not in your favour will cause job losses or affect EU competitiveness on the world market. Threaten to move your production plants out of Europe because of rising costs. You can always pay a consultancy or a think tank to come up with some numbers to back your arguments – although hard evidence is not always required.
Try to focus the political debate on a side issue in order to sneak in the main items on your agenda.
Dismiss any concerns around your agenda via your public relations departments. They can aggressively vilify critics for you, present your goals in the best light possible and greenwash your reputation so your company or client will finally be seen as the considerate, empowering innovator that you really are.