RPP aiming to raise the bar for Good Lobbying Practice in 2020

by RPP Group

RPP aiming to raise the bar for Good Lobbying Practice in 2020

Although the push for ethical lobbying and transparency in the European Union has been getting stronger, the negative perception about the Brussels lobbying scene persists. This has been exacerbated by lobbying scandals which can be regarded as the by-product of a system that allows and even incentivises unethical lobbying behaviour. Now, under the current COVID-19 pandemic, many undesirable practices simply cannot function anymore. There is literally no room for unregistered face to face meetings, fancy dinners or any other opportunity for less than optimal lobbying practices requiring presence. This might have brought about an unintended positive influence on the Brussels lobbying practices in terms of ethics and transparency. However, it would be naive to think that this will endure without continued effort. This is why many organisations who call for stronger transparency and ethical rules in lobbying will need to continue tackling these issues to enact lasting change. We, at RPP, would like to contribute to these efforts and promote positive changes concerning how lobby groups perform their activities in Brussels.

Transparency is crucial for European citizens and other stakeholders to be able to follow how decisions are made, which in turn renders politicians and policymakers accountable, strengthening the foundations of the European democratic system. Nevertheless, good lobbying practice goes beyond transparency, beyond simply making policy-related meetings public. It must address practices that essentially undermine policy development.

Client confidentiality is important – yet this can be used a pretext to conceal important issues from the public. That major law firms offer lobbying services but refuse to play by the same rules – on the pretext of ‘legal representation’ and attorney-client privilege – demonstrates the need for this privilege to end the moment a representative crosses the threshold to engage with an elected official or civil servant.

For most policy makers – politics is their life. Expecting professionals to give up a career of policy after their term ends would be as absurd as expecting Paul McCartney to give up the guitar because Beatles ended. Yet this too can become a problem for society where consultancies build an entire business purely by actively looking to hire high level officials en masse straight out of office to gain short-term influence.

Political campaigns need financial backing. But the voices of individuals can be shouted down and policy makers unduly pressured where the system incentivises large-scale spending by lobbying groups on campaigns.

These are not problems with individuals or those acting outside the system. This is the pitfall of a system that provides a profit motivation to engage in practices contrary to society’s best interest. Society should never tolerate a system that incentivises practices that can harm it. Lobbying by consultancies needs to change – and RPP will work towards this goal.

At a first glance, the question might naturally arise: doesn’t this ambition run contrary to the profit seeking behaviour of a lobby group? Not at all. On the contrary, our ambitions on good lobbying practice are an inherent, integral part of our business model for several reasons. First, we want to see a level playing field when it comes to interest representation. By introducing more stringent rules in this field, other companies will be forced to live up to the same standards we have already been maintaining stripping them of their unethical advantages. Second, we also want to demonstrate to companies that trust-building and value-creation are crucial to build effective partnerships and attain business goals. The only way to do this is to act in an ethical, transparent and accountable manner. Third, sustainability is key for adequate business development. Maximising short-term gains through undue influence will undermine trust and damage potential future projects, i.e. contracted client work. However, by building trust-based, long-term partnerships underpinned by real and tangible values, we are ensuring that policymakers and our clients continue to work with us, thus securing business sustainability. Finally, we want to achieve a reputation of having ‘good lobbying practice’ which encourages companies to work with us if they want to build effective partnerships with policymakers. This is what elevates us from the crowd of 25,000 lobbyists in Brussels.

Promoting good lobbying practice is crucial to ensuring interest representation informs EU decision-making not controls it. It allows policymakers to consider differing perspectives and make better, evidence-based decisions on key issues. Lobbying can strengthen EU decision making, but if it is not done properly, it can weaken it. Interest representation should be based on partnerships with the goal of creating value for the benefit of the society while fulfilling the internal goals of the represented organisations. This is the classic win-win scenario we believe in.

With this in mind, RPP is launching a new initiative in 2020 on Good Lobbying Practices. RPP may not have all the answers to these crucial questions, but we aim to find solutions by interacting with the most important stakeholders interested in improving the Brussels lobbying practice. We are open to discuss these issues with the representatives of civil societies, lobby watchdogs, transparency groups, NGOs, and EU institutions, who share our vision of attaining transparent and value-based interest representation in Brussels.

Lobbying can be a tremendous force for good and for furthering policy dialogue. Let us make sure that it is done right.  

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