The reader might know that together with the European Institutions (Commission, Council and Parliament) Brussels is also home to a profusion of associations, law firms, think tanks, consultancies or PR companies bringing interests of any kind to the attention of the European regulator.
The exact number is unknown. Official figures talk about 15000 lobbyists active in the capital of Europe but most likely there are many more. For the sake of transparency, the Commission set up a register in which lobbyists were voluntarily asked to sign up. The result of this experiment is still unclear but to date some 4700 organizations have signed up.
An engineer builds bridges or buildings; doctors save lives but what exactly a lobbyist does is not so self-explanatory and people might wonder how lobbyists spend their days. So, let’s try to cast some light on this obscure and spooky world.
Lobbyists’ job title varies depending on the organization that employs them but the most common one is “policy officer”. Indeed, a very obscure title understandable only in Brussels. Outside the capital of Europe, saying you are a policy officer might confuse your interlocutor. Normally one tends to think you work for the police and start asking silly questions. But instead of chasing criminals, policy officers are busy finding their way through a plethora of regulations, communications, public consultations, decisions, recommendations, roadmaps and many other kinds of euro documents whose purposes still are unclear to most EU citizens, and possibly even to the institutions that produce them.
This is why lobbyists are so desperately needed in the heart of Europe! If you represent the European dishwashers’ producers or the chocolate manufacturers you should be aware of what the European regulator is planning to do in your field and be able to react on time if this goes against your interests. As the Commission is normally very active in producing documents I leave the reader to imagine how tough and harsh this job can be. Not to mention here that eurocratic language is always cryptic. In spite of all the “fight the fog”, “keep it short and simple” training that eurocrats are encouraged to follow, the messages they send to the outside world are not always easy to understand and normally their papers are far too long to be read without a huge mug of coffee next to you. Deciphering those documents and try to understand the message and the policy rationale behind them is part of the average lobbyist’s everyday work.
Another more sociable part of the job has to do with showing your face around Brussels. The lobbyist is always busy creating new contacts and managing his or her own networks. A good lobbyist is supposed to show up and actively participate in as many presentations, receptions, networking events, conferences, working lunches and dinners as he or she can manage to stand and that are generously organized on a daily basis in Brussels. To the outsider, this might seem a lot of fun. However, going to an official cocktail or dinner is not exactly what I would call fun. The crowd varies but the average age is normally high, talking all the time about technicalities of EU policies can be terribly boring and conversations often end up with a reference to the unmerciful Brussels weather.
Keeping good and constructive relationship with eurocrats is of utmost importance for a lobbyist. Brussels is small and the European neighborhood even smaller. Walking around at lunch break one can easily meet honorables of the European Parliament, Directors General, Commissioners and other eurostars mixed together with a crowd of eurocrats of different grades and levels of seniority. A good lobbyist knows that his or her action should touch upon all levels and tries to maintain good relationships with everybody. Informal chats can be source of a lot of information and eurocrats talk more freely around a glass of good Belgian beer than while sitting in their offices. Nobody thinks of bribing a eurocrat with a beer or a lunch but every good lobbyist knows that “there is no free lunch!” as eurocrats like to joke.
This is in a nutshell what many people around Brussels do on a daily basis with different degrees of enthusiasm and motivation. Of course this text does not pretend to be exhaustive as lobbyists’ polyvalent nature allows them to do many other things that we could not list in this brief portrait. We would be pleased to provide more insights and additional details on this fascinating world upon request!