Foreword, from Wes Himes, Paul Varakas and Stefano Marmo
With a quick goodbye to 2020, and a warm welcome to 2021 SEAP enters the New Year determined to continue the hard work in representing the public affairs profession. The 12,000+ strong profession enters a new world of transparency following the adoption of the Inter-Institutional Agreement (IIA) on the European Transparency Register [https://www.europarl.europa.eu/tr-negotiations/en/home] in late 2020. This new Agreement will set the framework for lobbying transparency by effectively mandating that a lobbyist needs to be on the EU Transparency Register to engage with an ever-growing number of EU officials and Parliamentarians who require such registration. It also will promote further disclosure on meetings. SEAP has long championed a more transparent system, and while short of the full transparency requirement we advocated, we look forward to more and more voluntary adoption by Permanent Representations and MEPs of the simple rule – no registration, no meeting.
We also take this opportunity to solicit a call for action. With the large contingent of organisations, businesses, trade association, consultancy firms, NGO’s and freelancers all advocating before the EU institutions, it is imperative that the profession seeks to advance transparency and an open market for the advocacy of ideas and information. Too many times in the past 12 months there have been calls to withdraw voices from the democratic debate. These voices have argued that it is better to silence representatives than to challenge their opinion. Maintaining an open debate in a civil society is a fundamental right in the EU treaties, and no one has a monopoly on engagement and advocacy, as long as they maintain professional and ethical standards, such as the SEAP Code of Conduct.
We know that issues can reach fever pitch. Important and critical topics such as tech, climate change, farming and other important efforts at the EU level elicit strong reactions and challenges from stakeholders in the debate. But this should always fall short of disenfranchising legitimate interests from exercising their basic rights of representation and democratic voice.
We fear that the tone of debate is one where the messenger is the target, not the message. It is due to this subtle but increasing trend that we have this call for action for public affairs representatives from all the corners of Brussels to join SEAP. There is no point in bemoaning the state of play if one is not prepared to be committed to supporting its own profession. If you are a registered lobbyist there is no excuse to not join a membership body and support your profession.
In the United States there are approximately 12,000 registered lobbyists and the well-regarded Public Affairs Council (PAC) has over 10,000 members, representing some 700 organisations. In Brussels there are nearly the same number of registered lobbyists (12,230) but the memberships of representative organisations like SEAP, EPACA and ESAE will only represent a small portion of this number (circa 1,200).
SEAP launched LobbyEurope in 2019 and last year was at the forefront of the IIA debate. It also launched the Policy and Communications Committee, a 10 strong member group, aimed at addressing a larger scope of issues affecting the professional such as the new ethics panel suggested by the EU Ombudsman. This year we have plans for events in March on the IIA and our AGM on 30th June to elect our new Board members. We are also engaging on your behalf on basic items like Parliamentary access badges and Covid-19 rules on transparency declarations of remote meetings. We continue to ask for your support for the Transparency Pledge – an advocacy campaign that raises awareness and ask MEP’s and other EU stakeholders to support, through their signature, the importance of ensuring that access to policy debates is granted to all interest representatives, and that all should be allowed to take part in public debates as long as they abide by the EU Transparency Framework. As always, SEAP will remain at the heart of this debate, advocating high standards on these matters and continuing to assist its members.
And we are not done – we aim to launch a mentoring programme for young people just entering the profession. In 2019, to further develop and enfranchise young professional public affairs practitioners, we launched our free membership for under 26s. This provides a friction free entry into the lobby world, allowing young professionals to learn from those with experience, network amongst their peers, and take advantage of training and information benefits of the Society. It is important that for many of us who have enjoyed the profession over the years to give back to the growing community of young professionals making their way in public affairs.
At SEAP we will continue to remain vigilant to ensure that lobbying, in all its forms, remains a corruption free zone. We encourage all participants in public affairs to be part of your profession by joining a professional body such as SEAP, EPACA or EASE. The environment for public affairs and its future fate rests on ensuring that stakeholders know that the profession is being managed at the highest standards. It is our mission at SEAP – make it yours. If you are a public affairs professional support your local professional association and join us today.
The Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP), along with EPACA and EASE, serve as the professional bodies representing public affairs professionals from across a broad spectrum of actors, from trade associations, in-house corporates, NGO’s and consultancies. SEAP already counts with more than 20 years of history upholding strong standards of transparency and ethical behaviour for the industry, taking a leading role in promoting self-regulation initiatives (such as our Code of Conduct) and participating in public debates to ensure industry voices are heard in the development of regulations that might affect their activities.