The L word, part 1
In Brussels, it’s all about the “L” word…no, not that word…the “lobby” word. It seems Europe still has to admit to itself that lobbying is not a shady practice done by sleezy car salesmen (and women)-type individuals that would sell anything to anyone.
It is extremely rare in Brussels to find a lobbyist: they are all EU affairs people, PR, governmental relations, regulatory, compliance…basically anything but lobbyists!
It’s actually odd if one compares this to the situation on the other side of the Atlantic: in the USA, being a lobbyist is not only a profession, it’s a statement!
Could it then be one of those cultural differences comparable to the fact that Europeans don’t like talking about money whilst Americans give you an outline of their belongings and annual salary after approximately 5 minutes of social conversation? Or could it just be that more lobbyists need to “come out of the closet” and drop the silly “alternative labelling” stance?
I happen to believe in the usefulness of lobbyists (which is kind of obvious considering I am one and it’s always nicer to believe the job you’re doing could be useful), just like I think medication can be a good thing: it does not always taste great, it should only be used under prescription by a professional and once the expiry date is past, you should bring it back to the shop for proper disposal! But it can ease the pain, or even cure you, if you know how to use it.
So I want to give the “L” word the status it deserves: lobbying is a practice that can be useful to decision-makers, if done in a professional and transparent manner, and being a lobbyist, if you believe in what you do, can be a fun job (sometimes)!
But what is lobbying? If you believe Wikipedia, “Lobbying is the practice of influencing decisions made by government (in groups or individually). It includes all attempts to influence legislators and officials, whether by other legislators, constituents, or organized groups. A lobbyist is a person who tries to influence legislation on behalf of a special interest or a member of a lobby.”
I actually like this definition as it has the merit to recognise lobbying is not only done by industry or trade associations, but by any organised group and even by “other legislators”.I am often amused when I see statements by bloggers or surfers saying “call your MEP to have law X change and fight against those nasty lobbyists!”: what exactly do they think they are encouraging others to do? Influencing that is so pure it could not be considered lobbying?
This goes back to that negative connotation associated to (all) lobbying activities, which I examine in part 2.