Lobbying and Advocacy: Talking to NGOs

I had the pleasure of being invited to speak about Lobbying the EU by EDRI (European Digital Rights) at a seminar organised for a bunch of NGOs and activists.

Obviously, aside from the nice feeling one gets being “The Lobbyist” amongst “The Nice Guys” (and actually they all were extremely nice, even when they knew I was an industry representative), I had a fun time talking about my experience in Brussels, especially as I built my entire presentation around quotes from Miguel CervantesDon Quixote in honour of the Spanish Presidency (which ended up being as fun as when I made a presentation under Swedish Presidency using ABBA lyrics), as you can see from my slides below.

The best part of these speaking gigs is obviously the Q&A at the end. I found a couple of remarks and exchanges especially interesting and worth mentionning in this blog:

  • Lobbying Vs advocacy: I must admit, I find the whole labelling discussion a bit odd. To me, as soon as you try to influence a legislative outcome or process, regardless if you are a multi-national, an SME, a trade association, an NGO or Mr John Smith, a concerned citizen, you are lobbying (I even tend to consider that when my 3 year-old manages to convince me that I wil save her from doom by giving her a cookie, she’s one hell of a lobbyist). As you can imagine, NGOs have another view on this and we started discussing on what was different in their way of doing things and mine. They argued they were not doing “lobbying” because they did many other things, but that I found un-convincing personnally, as an argument. But then one argument in the discussion struck me as maybe holding part of the answer: activists told me that quite often, they consider they have reached their goal when on a specific subject, they have raised awareness in the press and amongst citizens and basically “created a stir”, even if the legislative text did not go their way. That is probably at the exact opposite of what I try to achieve in my job. Creating a stir is frankly not what I’m looking for and if a text is not changed in a direction that is “better” from my perspective (and my clients’), the ink dry and the paper printed in the Official Journal, I have achieved nothing. Yes, I do think that is probably the main difference I have found between the two approaches, and I’m actually happy to have been able to put my finger on it.
  • The approach to lobbying the 3 institutions: I strongly believe you never lobby institutions but people. But still, it is true that each EU institution has its own “culture” and “approachability factor” (and even within an institution, there are sub-worlds, as for example one Directorate-General can be totally different to another in the European Commission). But summarising these cultural differences is difficult. To me, it ends up being an issue of “length of relationship”: the European Parliament is an institution where “short term relationships” and “one-day stands” in terms of lobbying are absolutly acceptable. You can meet an MEP once, explain an issue, maybe convince him, and never see him again and there will be no hard feelings. Council and Commission on the other hand, require a lot more long term relationship-building. Trust is a hard-earned currency there, based on technical expertise and coherence, and that is hardly something you can earn in a 30 minutes speed-date (see my post on speed-dating at the Mickey Mouse).

This is the second time I am invited to speak specifically about my job and I must say, in both cases, I have learnt valuable insights from my audience, so I really look forward to doing this more often!

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1 Comment

  1. Hi there,
    Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting. As someone who advises non profits on EU policy I am quite interested in hearing that there are organisations who think that creating a bit of a stir in the media but not influencing legislation in any way is a success. And that lobbyists working for industry know the opposite is true. The truth is that in the long term you need both, but if you have to chose between the two, it’s best to focus on changing the laws.

    I think the only reason some organisations prefer to think they do advocacy rather than lobbying is because of the negative connotation that the word lobbying has. I’ve run training sessions on the EU for NGOs where this issue came up and what I’ve concluded is that it’s just a way to avoiding using the word lobbying.

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