How to start an effective advocacy campaign in the EU

By Publyon

The EU legislative process: how does it work and how can businesses take part? The EU has proven many times to be directly relevant to European businesses. The EU’s influence has been increasing over the years; think about the GDPR or the Green Deal. Now that a new political mandate will start in a few months and will define new rules in the next five years, we think it’s the perfect time to take a breath and be prepared for your next advocacy campaign in the EU. Make sure that your advocacy campaign is part of your overall business strategy, whether it is just about being aware of future laws to make the right investments, or to proactively shape future legislation to boost your competitiveness across Europe.

Navigating European legislation can feel like a complicated process with confusing language, a network of institutions and many different actors. Yet, European processes are designed to include and invite stakeholders to shape legislative initiatives, as these actors hold crucial expertise on specific topics.

Considering the complexity of the EU legislative process, what advocacy campaign can your business deploy to effectively bring your issue to the drafting table and ensure your business goals can be achieved? In this blog post, Publyon shows you the different stages of advocacy within a formal legislative procedure. We’ll start off by outlining how EU policy making works and what the transposition to national level entails. Then, we’ll show you the different stages of advocacy within a formal legislative procedure. We will illustrate this with a concrete file, the AI Act.

The making of European law

New legislative proposals are proposed by the European Commission, the executive power of the EU promoting the collective interest. Each law proposal is then considered simultaneously by the European Parliament (EP), representing EU citizens, and the Council of the EU, representing Member States. These co-legislators internally review the legislative proposal and propose amendments to the original Commission text.

Next, representatives from the Council and the Parliament, under the lead of the Commission, are brought together to discuss their amendments to the text and facilitate an agreement. These are the inter-institutional meetings, which are known as trialogues. If the Parliament, the Council and the Commission agree with the draft text, the legislative act or directive is adopted.

National implementation

Once the law is issued and adopted, Member States are mandated to adopt and enforce it, a process known as transposition. Typically, parliamentary approval is required for this integration. National authorities, ministries, and agencies then assume a crucial role in overseeing and enforcing compliance. Various bodies, tailored to specific policy areas, align national practices with EU legislation.

Advocacy campaign in the EU: making your voice heard

The EU legislative process, from start to end, takes on average 18 months. Although this provides you with enough time to make your interests known, the process is multifaced, complex and bureaucratic. To ensure legislation includes your interests, it is essential to know when and how to share your input with key European stakeholders. One thing is sure: the earlier, the better. Make sure that you are aware of what to expect before you see a written text as that is when you can really help shape it.

 The European Commission

Due to its right of initiative, the Commission holds a strong position as an agenda setter. Organisations can help shape legislative proposals through the ‘official’ channels, by contributing to public (online) consultations and Inception Impact Assessments, where citizens and stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on the intended proposal.

Yet, it is better to provide input even before the Commission drafts a proposal. In the months leading up to the European elections, the Council is also supporting the drafting of the European Commission’s Strategic Agenda. Ensuring that your issue is included in the list of priorities makes for a head start in the legislative process for the next Commission term (2024-2029). Further, third parties or governmental representatives such as your country’s Permanent Representation to the European Union can play a role influencing this.

The European Parliament

The EP’s input on draft proposals accounts for around 40% of the final text, for instance through proposed additions or changes (amendments) to the original bill. This makes Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) key advocacy targets. By submitting position papers on your business interests, or via the submission of ready-made amendments that MEPs can propose, you can inform MEPs of your position on the legislation and provide actionable recommendations.

Yet, reaching out to all 705 MEPs might be a bit ambitious. How do you decide who to approach? Every legislative proposal is assigned to an MEP rapporteur and several shadow rapporteurs, meaning they are responsible for analysing, discussing and amending the draft law proposal. One of their main tasks is to consult technical specialistsand include stakeholders’ insights, which makes them receptive for your organisation’s input. Furthermore, connecting with MEPs from a party that defends your business interests enhances your chances for an effective advocacy campaign. Don’t underestimate the importance of understanding political dynamics within the EP and the MEPs’ interests if you want to cut through the crowd.

The Council

Not well-versed in the EU? No cause for concern: you can establish a successful EU advocacy campaign within one’s own country. Engaging with relevant national MPs, national parliamentary commissions, and government officials or policymakers is essential if you want to start an effective EU advocacy campaign through national channels. National policymakers represent national public and private interests and influence the EU laws in the Council. The member states are represented by the permanent representations in Brussels and advocate through strategic partnerships and public outreach.

Furthermore, different national or European interest groups such as trade associations (BvB Business Europe) or regional development agencies (ROMs) know their way around the European organisational intricacies and relevant policymakers. Forming alliances can amplify your voice and increase your influence, ensuring that your interests are advocated for in the EU.

The road to reform: advocation and the AI Act

Let’s add a splash of color to the legislative process explained above by illustrating the  different stages of moments of influence in the case of the Artificial Intelligence Act, which was recently concluded at EU level.

The Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act) was proposed in April 2021 by the Commission, to establish harmonised rules on the development and use of AI in the EU. The AI Act is centered around risk mitigation for different types of AI systems, ranging from high risk to minimal risk. The AI Act is the first worldwide legislation regulating artificial intelligence. After extensive debates and consideration, the Council of the EU adopted its position in December 2022 and the EP took its position on 14 June 2023, after which the three-way negotiations or Trilogues kicked off between the three main EU institutions.

The Council and the European Parliament reached a political agreement in December 2023, whilst a technical and hence full deal was found a few weeks later in January 2024. On 2 February 2024, the Council formally approved the text, and the EP will do so during its last plenary session in April.

Examples of influence by national governments, zooming in on the Netherlands

The Dutch government has promoted its own AI priorities at EU level through the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council configuration (TTE), a branch of the Council. Here, the Netherlands stressed the importance of innovation and experimentation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as the need for more transparency for consumers and citizens on the use of high-risk AI.

Amid the Telecom Council meetings of October and December, the Dutch government actively put forward several priority topics, such as the protection of digital rights and the installment of a European AI Rapid Response Team. The government successfully advocated for the inclusion of a complaints mechanism, strengthening the risk analysis by providers of high-risk AI systems, incorporating General Purpose AI (GPAI), and designating more than one (coordinating) market regulator in the Act.

Examples of influence by third parties

Besides the national cabinet, Dutch stakeholders, such as companies, AI developers, and civil society, can also voice their interests in a public consultation round. During the online public consultations held between February and June 2020 on the upcoming AI Act proposal, the European Commission consulted stakeholders via a questionnaire. 5% of the respondents originated from the Netherlands.

Aside from the official channels at the European Commission level, stakeholders can also exert influence during the formation of Parliament’s position, for example by providing Members of European Parliament with specific expertise and knowledge. OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, for instance, lobbied to ensure that its applications GPT and DALL-E would not fall into the category of high risk. The AI-frontrunner argued that the focus of the Act’s requirements should be on companies that specifically intend to apply AI to high-risk use cases, rather than on companies that develop general-purpose AI systems.

At the start of a new legislative cycle, when the Commission sets its agenda of priorities and political guidelines, having your issue on the EU’s list makes for a smoother influencing process. For the digital sector, the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are a case in point, as these files seek to achieve European digital sovereignty and address longstanding competition concerns in the digital market. However, it is equally important for the industry to engage not only when it wants to raise an issue, but also to prevent the adoption of measures that could have a negative impact e.g. additional administrative hurdles, or hindrances to their innovative abilities for SMEs.

The benefits of using a consultancy firm

As we highlighted in this blog post, there are diverse approaches to start a successful advocacy campaign in the EU. However, a tailored approach to your business interests is always fundamental. Gaining trust and developing a long-term collaboration with different policymakers is essential for a successful EU lobby.

With over twenty years of experience in public affairs and corporate communication in the Netherlands and Brussels, Publyon can help you identify the right timing for engagements, relevant stakeholders, key decision-makers, important issues and political dynamics. Through our wide range of services and activities, from stakeholder analyses and political monitoring to organising knowledge sessions and providing organisational advice, we are eager to collaborate on the challenges you face, aiming to find suitable solutions that can benefit the entire organisation.

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