EU Influence: UberFiles soul-search — Salaries spike — Your new Insta addictionPOLITICO - Sarah Wheaton - 14/07/22
Uber Files outlined “a rather extreme, yet quite common (notably in the tech sector) method” of gaining access.
THE UBER FILES AND YOU
SHRUGGING OFF THE UBER FILES: While the Uber Files are making headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, let’s be honest. For this audience — and my editor isn’t gonna like me saying this (sorry, Nick) — there are few surprises. Sure, it’s a bit of sausage-making no-one really wants regular people to see, but ultimately lobbyists gonna lobby. Of course Uber had to take on the taxis, and let’s face it, who among you, at least in Brussels, is rooting for the taxis? On top of that, Mark MacGann has always had a bit of a reputation around town as something of a character among characters — as did “Steelie Neelie” Kroes, for that matter.
For watchdogs, it was also something of a non-story. The complete lack of monitoring and enforcement of the EU’s existing revolving door rules means these scandals are bound to keep happening.
SELF-MYTH BUSTING: Still, there’s a deeper mythology that I’ve heard from quite a few of you as I’ve made my introductory rounds: This idea that you’re making the companies you work for better in a moral or ethical sense.
The stories we tell ourselves: You know the premise: Politicians these days are wise to the slick, spinroom lobbying pitch. Instead, you, the Brussels lobbyist, influence your clients just as much as you influence policymakers. You’ll help companies adjust to be greener, more inclusive, so they can align their corporate mission with political demands. Rather than simply pitching governments on investing in your client, you’ll point your client to where the government wants to invest — all while preaching transparency.
That all sounds great. But it’s “far from becoming mainstream»Alberto Alemanno, a law professor at HEC Paris and founder of The Good Lobby.
If anything, the Uber Files outlined “a rather extreme, yet quite common (notably in the tech sector) method” of gaining access, Alemanno told me in an email. He outlined the playbook, which he said is still completely replicable today.
THREE EASY STEPS:
1 — Paint a positive narrative “through the help of friendly, and well-paid think tanks.”
2 — Commission academics to “fabricate evidence” to back up the narrative. “(Academics are quite cheap to buy!)” Alemanno added.
3 — Use the narrative to gain favor with sympathetic, high-level pols. (That last point, we’d note, still requires some finesse.)
CHANGE OR DIE: “There’s definitely a sense of, ‘Oh my god, you know another one of these stories,’” said Paul Varakas, president of the Society of European Affairs Professionals. While he argued that these scandals are increasingly “isolated incidents,” the revelations are “rather harmful” for the sector and its not-so-hot reputation.
“There is obviously a self-interest to get better,” he said. Lobbying “can only remain a legitimate form of indirect democracy if we as pub affairs professionals act with honesty and integrity.”
TAKES TWO TO TANGO: Alemanno and Varakas both invoked this expression when it comes to policy prescriptions. The EU has a lot of rules that lobbyists have to follow. More onus should be placed on the lobbied, they said.
“You should not meet someone that is not on the transparency register,” Varakas said of EU policymakers, and urged better disclosure of meetings.
INERTIA: Politicians still have the monopoly on enforcing ethics rules, and they’re not motivated to use it.
“What are the incentives for [Commission President] Ursula Von der Leyen to open an inquiry into a former Commissioner who is not politically accountable to her having served a decade ago?”
Alemanno said, adding that she may be similarly disinclined to accept some MEPs’ demands to ban Uber lobbyists today as punishment for their forebears’ sins.
Ethics body stalled: There are few signs this scandal is creating momentum for overhaul. Peppered with questions about progress on a proposal for an EU ethics body on Monday, a Commission spokesperson said “it’s complicated” to design an inter-institutional system and there’s no time frame. (Isn’t EVERYTHING about EU legislation complicated? It’s what Brussels does best.)
There’s no time frame either, evidently, for answering EU Influence’s question, posed Monday, about what the Commission is doing to overcome those complications.
We’re loving these old videos of Commission comms staff posted by Pablo Pérez of the EU Intellectual Property Office. Read the replies for more recollections from back in the day and reflections on how things have changed (or not).
BEHIND THE BEST IN BRUSSELS
MARK DOBER ON THE ANNUAL GUIDE: Monday might have been slightly awkward timing for a friendly guide to the Brussels influence scene, but the 2022 edition of BestinBrussels was certainly a welcome morale boost for the sector as the UberFiles piled up. EU Influence caught up over Zoom with the co-author and founder of Dober Partners Executive Search & Consultancy about this year’s guide and what’s changed since he launched APCO Worldwide’s Brussels office in 1995.
BY THE € NUMBERS: Dober noted findings by the U.K. recruiter Hays that it takes a pay raise of about 20 to 25 percent to get people to switch jobs. “We see similar things in Brussels.”
BY THE NUMBERS: “When I first came in 1993, there were 10,000 lobbyists,” Dober said. “Now there are 25,000… and there’s a lot more money in it.”
CRUNCH ON BOTH ENDS: In recent years, more senior people than usual have left the market. Meanwhile, fewer young adults are signing up for Commission stages, throttling the pipeline of junior talent.
WHO YOU KNOW: Brussels lobbyists like to say this technical town is more about what you know than who you know. The pandemic changed that calculus a bit. “What we realized thanks to covid is you can’t make relationships online,” he said, so having a network of contacts is a higher priority for recruits. Dober recounted a client who would only look at candidates based in Brussels because “the kids should go to the crêche where the other parents are in the Commission.”
But but but: Then again, amid the uproar over Kroes’ work for Uber, Dober said, “A lot of people in the Commission don’t convert easily to become good lobbyists,” especially career bureaucrats. And multi-year cooling off periods aren’t necessarily such a bad idea for politically appointed ex-commissioners anyway, he added: “A lot of those people aren’t that popular in the Commission anyway.”
BEHIND THE GUIDE: Write-ups are pay to play and generally written by the companies themselves — but the relatively new Best Practice Awards are based on a survey of 220 top consultants.
Costs: Entries cost €500 for small agencies, €1,000 for medium firms and €1,500 for the largest. Dober said €20,000 will be split among UNICEF, DoucheFLUX and a charity helping Ukrainians.
And the winners are…
— Best Corporate EU Public Affairs Team: Spotify
— Best Business EU Trade Association: The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA)
— Best NGO: Transport & Environment
Thought bubble: Fascinating how lobbying teams are viewed within the industry compared to outside of it. I suspect surveys of journalists and policymakers would yield rather different results — though Spotify may be a universal crowd pleaser.
BRUSSELS GRIPES: Warning: What I’m going to share with you will become your new obsession. The Instagram account @brussels_affirmations is creating its own alternative “transparency register,” with snapshots of life for people at different net salary levels around the bubble. EU Influence salutes this worthy competitor for your attention.
In terms of self-perception, in-house lobbyists are “the least underpaid group,” they found.
PRO TIP: An occasional section where I ventilate about boneheaded PR practices.
First impressions: I appreciate your Influencers updates on job moves and board elections — keep ‘em coming!
Often, these messages are the very first time we interact. So don’t fry your credibility by trying to trick me into posting old news. If the trade association you’re promoting was founded in 2021, don’t tell me they’ve launched this week. (I know, it sucks, you didn’t get to have an in-person debut back then, but don’t try to compensate by fudging the timing.)
PERNOD RICARD — WATERED-DOWN INFLUENCE: You know, we’re just gonna hand this one to Pernod Ricard. At a time when many booze-makers are trying to win CSR points for promoting responsible drinking by pushing similarly-priced 0.0-percent cocktails, the French spirits conglomerate is embracing a year-old, unbranded campaign to “Drink More Water.” The reception on the rooftop above Café Belga —which was emblazoned with the slogan — was a refreshing break from the EU quarter during a relatively quiet week. At least one Parliament staffer we bumped into was impressed with the initiative, and we spied Emmanuel Vouin, head of group for external engagement, getting interviewed by Flemish broadcaster Bruzz.
Double shot: Of course, the more typically Eurobubble element was earlier, at Bibliotheque Solvay, where CEO Alexandre Ricard and Erasmus Student Network President Juan Rayón González touted their ongoing partnership to promote responsible partying.
Brussels debut: Conor McQuaid was celebrating his first days in the post of EVP for corporate communications, sustainability & responsibility and public affairs.
Diluted efficacy: EU Influence regrets to inform you, dear readers and dear editor (sorry Nick), that she still didn’t drink enough water.
— Tove Larsson joins Dentons Global Advisors in Brussels as a partner, leading the fast- moving consumer goods (FMCG) practice. She was previously at the Swedish Food & Drink Federation.
CONSULTING AND COMMS
— Bernadett Lauko is leaving POLITICO to join the (very fortunate) management consultancy Gartner as an account manager.
— Matteo Vespa is the new president of the European Students’ Union.
— Hume Brophy has promoted Chris Mehigan to a newly created post: managing director, transport & mobility.
— Alessandro Pasquale, CEO and owner of Mattoni 1873, is the new president of Natural Mineral Waters Europe. He succeeds Muriel Lienau, CEO of Nestlé Waters in Europe, Middle East and North Africa.
— Linda Strazdina is Wise’s new EU policy and government relations manager, via FTI Consulting.
— Former U.K. MEP Neena Gill has founded the Europe Asia Foundation, based in London and aiming to host events in Brussels and Strasbourg.
— The General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises opened its European office in Brussels on Wednesday, with a visit from the confederation’s president, Chakib Alj.
— Adam Bouzi has joined the trade policy team at SEC Newgate in Brussels.