Foreword from Isabelle De Vinck – BestInBrussels 2022
EPACA (the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association) is the representative trade association for professional public affairs consultancies active in the EU marketplace. We aim to lead by example, upholding the highest ethical and professional standards in our work, promoting more transparent decision-making, and acting as the go-to spokesperson for anyone in society who has questions about our activities.
This year has been and will be a particularly interesting period for the association. Not only do we continue providing trainings on how to deal with the everchanging environment of teleworking and digital public affairs, 2022 is also the year in which the new Interinstitutional Agreement on the Transparency Register entered into force. In the lead up to this, EPACA held regular meetings with the Joint Transparency Register Secretariat, organised stakeholder awareness workshops, and drafted its own implementing guidelines to ensure our members are ready for the new changes. On top of that, the crisis in Ukraine has created new challenges for the public affairs industry, and our association serves as a forum where the sector can meet and exchange views on how to adapt to the new reality.
Promoting high ethical and professional standards
Whilst adapting to changing working and political realities, EPACA maintains its focus on promoting ethical standards in the EU public affairs space. Being an EPACA member is synonymous with the highest-quality of ethical conduct. This ethical standard is upheld by initiatives such as EPACA’s Code of Conduct, a self-regulatory instrument recognised by the European Commission and European Parliament. The signatories of the Code – our members – are all committed to abiding by it, acting in an honest, responsible, and courteous manner at all times. As the basis for EPACA members’ essential ‘licence to operate’, the Code is regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that it reflects best practices, responding to shifting social, economic, and political landscapes, as well as to new communications technologies.
As well as advocating for ethical lobbying standards, increased transparency, and the public affairs profession as a whole, EPACA has been at the forefront of promoting the professional standards for the Brussels public affairs sector. This commitment and effort culminated in the EPACA Charter, which adds to the Code of Conduct by combining ethics, professionalism, and corporate governance. The Charter sets EPACA members apart from other public affairs agencies, and demonstrates to clients the benefit of working with EPACA consultancies.
Defending public affairs professionals
Since EPACA was founded, we have been working to alter the reputation of the public affairs profession, challenging the unfavourable stereotypes of lobbying through interviews, TV-appearances, op-eds, negotiations with EU officials, and appearances at events. EPACA actively shows the world that its members are professionals who have nothing to hide and can be proud of their work. We emphasise how our activities as public affairs professionals contribute to a healthy democratic and transparent process, acting as a link between the world of business, civil society, and European policy-makers.
The transparency debate has been central to EPACA’s work, and it has always been our fundamental guiding principle. Over recent years, we have been instrumental in representing public affairs consultancies with the wider European Transparency Initiative (ETI). All members of EPACA are committed to the highest standards of integrity and believe that those same standards should apply to all lobbyists who aim to influence EU decision-making processes – such as NGOs, PA firms, companies, and trade associations. For several years, EPACA has cooperated with the Joint Transparency Register Secretariat to share views and insights from our members on the development of a Mandatory Transparency Register. Over the course of 2021, we have continued to do so, focusing in particular on the impact of the new IIA on the Mandatory Transparency Register on the EU public affairs sector.
Advancing the professionalisation of the sector
EPACA actively works to give its members the opportunity and tools to integrate the values of transparency, ethics, and integrity into every aspect of our professional lives.
To that end, and with a continuous focus on transparency, we continue to focus on helping educate our members’ newest staff on the do’s and don’ts prescribed by the EPACA Code of Conduct. With our online tools, we aim to bring written principles into practical acts and ensure the youngest generation builds an ethical approach to public affairs, and the tools will be regularly updated in order to reflect the reality of the day. Recently EPACA developed an e-tool on stakeholder mappings, ensuring all our members’ staff – from interns to senior advisors – are aware of how to collect and process personal data while fully respecting the privacy of stakeholders at all times.
As the PA sector is rapidly professionalising, at EPACA we also ensure our members are informed on the latest trends and debates, on a global level as well European – confronting our ideas with diverse ways of thinking and approaching public affairs. This is at the heart of events and workshops EPACA organises to enable sharing of insights on hot topics; creating opportunities to network and bring together a broader public of engaged professionals from the political and professional community.
Over the course of the past year in particular, we have hosted information sessions to give our members all the tools needed to understand the implementation of the new Mandatory Transparency Register guidelines. We have recently focused on highlighting the work needed in terms of Diversity and Inclusion in the EU public affairs space, hosting several events on the topic and launching internal discussions to highlight the importance of the issue. EPACA provides both trainings on transparency-related topics and trainings focussed on skills. These skills-based workshops range from training junior consultants to build a career in public affairs consultancy to assisting the management in running a successful and innovative consultancy.
Why join EPACA?
In an age where transparency and ethics in the public arena are continuously under scrutiny, it is in the interest of public affairs consultancies to ensure that we and our employees abide by and are protected by accepted policies, codes, and regulations. EPACA is the only professional body at EU level representing the interests of public affairs consultancies. Members contribute to the promotion of the public affairs profession and benefit from the opportunity to network with peers, exchange ideas, and stay abreast of what matters to public affairs professionals in Brussels.