Public Affairs in a nutshell: an interview with Patrick Gibbels

by | Aug 29, 2022

“You can definitely influence European policy”

Patrick Gibbels is a lobbyist and has his own firm – Gibbels Public Affairs – and is the PA man at Insticom. He has a legal background but decided not to become a tax specialist to earn a living. After graduating from European Studies, he was secretary-general of a European umbrella organisation for SMEs for ten years. Then in 2011, he started his own business.

Public Affairs in Europe? What exactly is that?

“In short, Public Affairs helps you to influence the official decision-making procedures. In Brussels; the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council are the three main institutions involved in this decision-making process. Not all companies and organisations affected by the policy are directly involved in this process. In order to exert pressure on the process, you can therefore hire a lobbyist. He has knowledge of the Brussels labyrinth and determines your strategy with you. He helps to shape your message in a way that works in Brussels and knows when and to whom to sell the message – and to whom above all not.”

Isn’t lobbying in Brussels very expensive?

“Every company has to deal with government regulations. Budget does not have to be an inhibiting factor for organisations to make their voice be heard in Brussels. Together with a lobby office, you can conduct a strategic and effective lobby. You can also join an existing umbrella organisation – or set up one yourself. As you can imagine, several organisations in your sector share the same interests. An umbrella organisation bundles these interests and represents its members vis-à-vis the institutions. In this way, you can exert influence in an affordable way. However, you have to take into account that in an umbrella organisation it is always a weighted interest and it therefore makes sense to also conduct your own lobby.”

What does EU policy have to do with my nationally operating company?

“More than two-thirds of the legislation that affects your business operations comes from Brussels. European legislation is implemented at national level. So, most of the national rules and laws are devised in Brussels.”

Who are the main players in the European lobbying process?

That depends on the stage at which a proposal goes through. If you want to put an item on the agenda, it is best to talk to the European Commission or to the representatives of the country holding the EU Presidency during that period. Since the European Parliament has been given more say, you can also talk to parliamentarians; they can draw up parliamentary resolutions that can also lead to laws. But if you want to influence something that is already in the pipeline, it depends on where exactly. If it is yet to be written, you have to be with the Commission, but if it has to be adapted or approved, then you are talking to the European Parliament and the Council. The European Council is made up of the Heads of State or Government of the individual Member States of the European Union. The easiest way to reach and influence them is from your own country.

Lobby sometimes conjures up the wrong associations. Does the honest lobbyist really exist?

Yes! Lobbying does not deserve that stigma. It is a legitimate part of the democratic process; that backroom image must be removed. This image comes mainly from America, people know it from series like House of Cards. But lobbying is necessary, even the most cynical politician will confirm this. MEPs are generalists. In order to make good decisions, they need solid information. That is why experts and stakeholders from the sector are needed to inform them. Apart from the quality of the information, they always look at how representative you are. That is why umbrella organisations work so well, with several organisations from different countries communicating their weighted interests.

The 3 ingredients for a successful lobby according to Patrick Gibbels:

  1. Be aware of new information in good time; information that is not yet generally known. Think of something that has come to your attention in passing, for example at an expert group or within your network. This can be about something that people are worried about within a sector, or informal discussions about a possible bill.
  2. Good insight into the decision-making procedure. You must have a clear insight into where the bill is in the decision-making process, who is responsible and how to approach those responsible.
  3. Create a clear and relevant message. You must be able to convince why a legislative proposal should be dressed up in your own way. Therefore, always support your story with figures and evidence or a very strong case.

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