Sunday, 7 December 2008

The silent bubble

"Discuss with the EU's elite and be inspired by America's best": this was the motto of the European Agenda Summit 2008 held in Brussels on Wednesday 3 and Thursday 4 December at the Renaissance Hotel — a five-star Marriott located at a stone throw from the European Parliament. Most of the 200 participants attending the event were professional lobbyists moving in the Brussels' bubble, but a few Commission officials and MEPs' assistants were also present.

After paying a substantial fee — €590 for a professional lobbyist but... twice the price for non-members of the bubble — participants were able to both socialise and attend presentations on successful lobbying examples, workshops and keynote speeches on various lobbying and political communication issues, with lobbying transparency and the Obama campaign being two central themes.

On Wednesday, former Commission official turned lobbyist John Duhig explained how, while working for Eamonn Bates Europe on behalf of a small US company selling cancer detection technologies, he successfully lobbied the EU Presidency to lobby... MEPs to prepare a report on combatting cancer. He then lobbied the rapporteur of the Environment and Health committee, members of this committee and the whole Parliament to get support for a discreet amendment just asking to recognise the role of "new technologies that impact upon the field of cancer screening". That was enough, he said, to open up new market opportunities to his client.

Then Eamonn Bates himself, lobbying for another small US company producing an alternative to phthalates called Citroflex A4, outlined his strategy to ban phthalates in the EU and make Citroflex A4 the first non-phthalate plasticiser approved by the Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment (CSTEE).

Jacek Siwek from British American Tobacco explained how long and indirect the lobbying road can be on taxation issues (detours via member states, industry federations, etc.), and Christof Klitz from Volkswagen confirmed that job losses were always a good argument to make politicians bow down.

However, apart from listing a set of rather obvious "tips", the presentations of "best cases" by the "EU's elite" lobbyists addressing other lobbyists remained rather cryptic: no names of clients, no dates, no special lobbying techniques to achieve influence, and more importantly no clear evidence of success, were revealed.

The only notable exception was by Michel Troubetzkoy, head of EADS Brussels office and director of the lobby group Club Europe et Défense. He explained that the European Defence Agency (EDA) was just EADS' baby. He produced documents showing that the organisation chart he had proposed for the agency was 95% similar to the one finally adopted by the Council of the EU. To help EADS reach that goal, Troubetzkoy said his company enjoyed "direct contact with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing" and a "very easy access" to Michel Barnier. The former was then president of the constitutional Convention on the Future of Europe (which proposed the creation of the EDA), the latter served as Commissioner for regional policy (1999-2004) and as Foreign Minister of France afterwards.

The two-day event was organised by European Agenda Magazine, which is published by an organisation describing itself as "the lobbying and event platform for professional life in Brussels", and was sponsored, among others, by PR giant Hill & Knowlton, US transnational Dow Chemical, a private club of Brussels "bubblers" gathering in a disco every Thursday evening, and a company selling access to a database "of over 20,000 power brokers in and around European politics".


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