October 13, 2014
Government affairs continues to gain importance all over the world for associations and professional societies. Although various definitions exist on what government affairs actually means, it always comes back to the following: to represent or advocate the interests of a company, association or any other organization with decision makers.
Kellen Company has worked in two key political power centers – Washington D.C. and the European Union (EU) – and are able to provide a snapshot on the similarities and key-differences. In particular, in this post, we will focus on the right of initiative, the keys to successful lobbying and some practical tips to be taken into account.
Regardless of the location, the starting point is always to have a good understanding of the institutions, processes and timelines that lead up to legislation.
EU government affairs
When we look into the right of initiative for proposing legislation, this lies in the EU with the European Commission. However, prior to the publication of the actual proposal, there are plenty of opportunities, both formal and informal, for an interested party to make known its position and to try to influence the direction of the forthcoming legislative proposal. This can be done via public consultations, studies and setting up individual contacts with the relevant staff.
Once the proposal is formally published, the wheels of the decision making process are set in motion. Interestingly, in the EU, once a proposal is issued the process, in principle, cannot be stopped which is a significant difference compared to the US. As a consequence, the European Parliament (representing the EU citizens) and the Council (representing the Member States) will become involved.
With the involvement of the three institutions, it is essential that any outreach activity is tailor made subject to the institution and political level that is interacted with. This will determine the emphasis of a position e.g.: a more technical approach with the Commission’s desk officers vs. focusing on the political message when going higher up in the hierarchy.
Although the legislation is developed within a “European” context, the national angle must not be forgotten since it can be a useful element to underline the potential impact of legislative proposal or can draw additional attention from the political level.
Government affairs in Washington D.C.
In the U.S., anyone with a burning issue and a strong case to make to a Congressman or Senator can encourage and potentially lead to the introduction of a bill that may eventually become law. However, most ideas for legislation, even when formally introduced, do not actually make it into the U.S. Code. The likelihood of success can be greatly increased when coalitions are formed and support for the issue can be demonstrated within the Congressman’s home district or Senator’s home state.
If the coalition is successful in getting a bill introduced and gaining the support of legislators, the work is only just beginning. Continued outreach and demonstrations of constituent support are vital to ensuring legislators remain committed to the bill, gaining additional supporters for the legislation and finding champions that will shepherd the legislation through the numerous legislative hurdles that it will face as it moves through the multistep US legislative process.
Similar to the EU where formal publication initiates the political process, in the US Congress the real political work takes place after the legislation is introduced. Political considerations play a role here, as decisions about which bills receive hearings and votes may be made for reasons other than policy. While advocates cannot control political considerations, the best way to increase the likelihood that a bill navigates the legislative process is to demonstrate bipartisan support and show the benefits, such as job creation, the legislation will bring to constituents in all regions of the country.
Persistence and coalition building are two of the most important factors when it comes to advocating for or against legislation in the US. The US political process provides many opportunities for an issue to be pushed aside, derailed by partisanship, or simply not advanced by leadership. Remaining in close contact with champions, ensuring that leadership sees the breadth of the coalition, and demonstrating sustained bipartisan support will significantly increase the odds that the bill ultimately, becomes law.
…and some similarities
We have touched upon some of the difference in doing government affairs in Washington D.C. and Brussels. However, there are also some similarities in processes which should be underscored. In the end, it is very important that solid and reliable relationships are established with the key-decision makers and their staff. Organization must also be seen as a credible source of information and data which can be achieved by, among other points, providing added value when information is requested.