The changing face of public affairs in Europe: 4 trends to watch

I’ve just had the following article published in E!Sharp magazine dealing with 4 major trends in European public affairs. Feel free to comment, share or challenge it!


Angela Merkel


Angela Merkel and François Hollande and, in the background, the presidents of the European Council, Commission and Parliament. Photo:


Rising unemployment rates, Germany’s elections and the upcoming European Parliament elections have been at the top of government affairs professionals’ agenda in the EU. Yet at the same time, there are a number of less visible developments that are having an equally great impact on how organizations, trade associations and even governments interact with EU institutions and their own constituents.


Here are four key trends to watch in European public affairs.


First, a growing number of issues that used to be decided exclusively or mostly at the national or EU member state level are now greatly influenced — and in some cases decided — in Brussels. Consider banking regulations, rules on hedge funds, food safety laws, pesticide authorizations, CO2 emissions quotas, car safety rules and data protection rules: The internal market has reached a level of maturity whereby European institutions and agencies are playing an increasingly important role in setting financial, health and environmental safety standards. As Brussels increasingly makes decisions that affect companies’ operating environment, industries from consumer product makers to insurance providers are having to pay much closer attention to what is happening on the EU level, as this will eventually spill over to the national level.


Second, more companies realize that due to the “Europeanization” of rulemaking, they need to pay more attention to understanding (and possibly shaping) public perceptions of their products or services both in Brussels and in key national markets. Therefore, in lieu of marketing, the focus is on strategic communications aimed at positioning companies that make a certain product or sell a particular service. If an organization is perceived by decision-makers to be trustworthy, environmentally friendly, socially acceptable, financially sound and generally “likeable,” its representatives are far more likely to be received (and listened to) by European Commission officials, members of the European Parliament and other policymakers in the EU ecosystem. Reputation and perception now have a direct impact on the success of advocacy.


Third, “grassroots” movements — a term well-known in the United States but previously unheard of in Europe — are now cropping up on our side of the Atlantic as well. For lack of a better term, we call these “bottom-up initiatives,” and they refer to campaigns or petitions that start from local communities, or private initiatives that reach a cross-border, European scale and have a massive legislative impact. Think of the negative vote in the European Parliament on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the intensive campaign, mostly online, organized by websites such as Or consider the recent ban on neonicotinoids, substances used in pesticides that are allegedly having a big influence on the death (or collapse) of bee colonies: Millions of signatures were collected to enact the ban, and hundreds of videos have been produced to keep the issue on the agenda. Individuals or local NGOs organized most of these efforts, which successfully communicated their message to EU policymakers. One thing is certain: More grassroots efforts will follow.


And finally, we are seeing a globalization of public affairs. For all of the above reasons, major markets in the world are becoming less isolated in the policies they choose to enact. Brazil tends to look carefully at Europe’s actions when it comes to creating environmental laws and regulations. And the EU and the U.S. are now engaged in historic negotiations on a trans-Atlantic trade and investment partnership, commonly abbreviated as TTIP. One of the key elements of the TTIP is working to bridge regulatory differences in order to open up new market opportunities. The EU is also negotiating free trade agreements with several dozen other countries, including Japan, Mexico and Canada, the conclusion of which can have further influence on public affairs in these markets, especially when it comes to ‘regulatory convergence’. Given this new public affairs landscape, looking at best practices and trends in only one region is insufficient; a global view is now required, because trends, ideas and government policies no longer stop at national borders.


Posted in EU Affairs

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