Dr Jouko Huju of GMBA Finland: Lobbying in the EU needs a stronger commitment from the marine industry

Successful lobbying of the marine industry in the EU is at the end of the day a communication challenge. Not between the lobbyists and the EU but between the lobbyists and the marine industry companies!

To have a strong and unified voice in Brussels will require versatile expertise coming from a combination of industry representatives, issue-based experts, Brussels on-site staff and contract lobbyists all having a thorough understanding on the interrelations of the stakeholders on both sides of the table both nationally and EU-wide.

There is an on-going danger that the EU machinery will overrun the interests of the boating industry unless it properly understands this problem. This strong and unified voice will need a direct contribution of those whom the process at the end of the day concerns; the industry. Without a proper understanding of the ramifications of EU legislation processes and without an understanding how the industry can have a say in its own future, the lobbying will have only limited results. In short: the lobbyists, whoever they are will need more funding and more resources.

The EU is an ever-changing entity with numerous cultural, linguistic and political approaches. There is an on-going change taking place. These changes pose a challenge to any lobbyist. The EU institutions are lacking human resources and therefore they need to discuss with private interests to gain access to detailed information on topics of importance. Any negotiation carried out in the EU needs to be ready to accept compromises, accept various approaches by the member states and accept the fact that very little happens fast. Lobbying operations take place on several different arenas (also national ones) at the same time and the outcome is in most cases is a mastered compromise.

The discussions around the first Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) started in the Commission in latter part of the 1980’s. A handful of countries with more developed boating industries and with enough technical expertise participated in the preparatory phase. The first version of the RCD came into force with a two-year transition period on June 16, 1996. But it was not until 2003 when the EU boating industries’ first joint effort for proper representation was established. This cannot be considered as a fast reaction. EURMIG (European Recreational Marine Group) was a committee within the industry’s international body ICOMIA (International Council of Marine Industry Associations).  In just two years, because of disagreements about organisational details and governance, a second organisation ECNI (European Confederation of Nautical Industries) was established by France, Belgium and one part of Germany. The two-organisation-model was confusing for all sides especially when considering the size of the boating/marine industry in the EU.

During the time of developing a proper joint lobbying organisation, the EU legislative process has kept its own pace and not only the RCD keeps changing but there are numbers of many other initiatives that will have an impact on the boating industry. It is not just the legislative process that justifies proper lobbying. The EU has enormous research and development funds and the boating industry has just very recently been able to take advantage of these.

It took until 2009 before the industry was able to unite under a new organisation called the European Boating Industry which now is based in Brussels. They work closely together with the marine industry’s international body, Icomia, based in the UK. EBI represents today (according to its website) 9 European countries.

What is lobbying then actually all about? The European Commission officially defines lobbying as:activities carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making process of the European institutions” They further define a lobbyist as: “persons who wish to enter the Parliament’s (or other institutions) premises frequently with a view to supplying information to Members within the framework of their parliamentary mandate in their own interests or those of third parties”.

There is a reason why the number of industry representatives has grown to such numbers in Brussels. The European legislation process is a result of an on-going debate between the legislators and private interests. In this case the private sector provides the legislators indispensable information and background facts on issues that the EU cannot get hold of themselves.

EU lobbying in basic terms is a process of conveying correct and truthful information on important topics to those who prepare legislation. Lobbying has developed to an unavoidable interaction between the public and the private sector. Private interests form the biggest part of the Brussels on-site lobbyists.  Public bodies (often funded by the EU) and some regional governmental bodies are present too. One should not forget the role of the media as one lobbying party.

There are differences in approaching this issue on the other side of the Atlantic. Advocacy work is seen as one of the most important services the NMMA offers to its members. They have an office in Washington DC employing 10 full time staff. In the US, industry will work to defeat proposed legislation and regulation, compromising only when defeat is not seen as possible. The provision of essential information is good merchandise in Brussels and Washington as well. Lobbying is really about educating legislators and building relationships with the people in leading positions in the US Congress and Administration. Lobbying is more widely accepted in the US and therefore also gets a more individual approach. Issue based coalitions are more common in the US mainly due to direct accountability but also because history has shown their power.

As far as the EU/EEA Marine Industry Associations are concerned, the first thing one has to note is that national lobbying is considered to be high on the agenda. National lobbying produces a national point of view which then in most cases can be taken forward together with the national officials in the EU. EU lobbying is in all cases important for the MIAs.

There are differences in the topic selection process and this is a point where the marine industry can learn from each other. The process of issue identification is not well planned in all cases.

How the MIAs have succeeded in lobbying in the EU or how the lobbying has been carried out in recent years does not get good grades. The flexibility of the process, stakeholder involvement and commitment need improvement.

Also, the complexity of the issues demands topic specified expertise and therefore various ad hoc groups are needed.

The complexity and the changing nature of EU itself create a need to follow up more closely how the system works. It is not clear to all, especially smaller MIAs, what the legislative process in actual terms is. Further there is a need to improve the system of information management. The EU produces huge amounts of initiatives, background documents and research papers. The MIAs will need a sourcing and filtering system.

When talking about lobbying with the Marine Industry Associations outside Europe in the main boat building countries (USA, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa) one can note that lobbying is in all cases high on the MIAs’ agenda.  Without on on-going discussion with the legislators the industry would not survive long. It is of crucial importance to develop a system for productive representation in the whole chain of legislation.

Sorting out the really the important topics is seen as a challenge all over the world. The solutions offered start from an on-going interaction with the MIAs’ members to identify areas of importance. This could be done in various meetings or even by regular surveys. The lobbying staff also has to be professional enough to monitor and evaluate issues of importance.

As far as the used tools are concerned there is a US only phenomenon. Political fundraising is a powerful tool in the US but very seldom used in other parts of the world.  In the EU the real tool is the expertise (facts/figures/impact assessment) provided.

The lobbying success seems to be in relation with the resources and funds available. A major factor in successful lobbying is to know what can be reached and when a consensus can be found.

Although there are many MIAs with professional lobbying organisations, they are still using contract lobbyists for specific cases. They may have some special technical knowledge or they may know a certain part of the legislative process especially well. Managing all outside help is seen important.

For the marine industry to improve its lobbying success they need to be well informed about the challenges posed to their members. Building suitable groupings on specific cases and an on-going training are important.

With the present system of financing and resourcing the boating industry’s lobbying work will only barely survive. Also, the bigger countries with more resources will continue to have a bigger voice. The boating industry in every country will need to widen the national discussion to make all stakeholders sufficiently aware that boat building or sales in present day Europe is not only developing production technology or marketing campaigns.

On the EU institutions’ side the officials do not expect fancy campaigns but merely time wise correctly produced back ground papers and expertise to show the industry’s position and a possible impact on issues at hand.

The question is; why can’t the European MIAs produce enough funds and resources to guarantee a sufficient level of representation in Brussels. The conclusions drawn indicate a hasty need to involve those who then finally get impacted by the legislation; the industry. The industry needs to ensure the funding, issue identification and they need to get more involved in all aspects of the work.

Sufficient representation in the EU is part of the industry’s life, whether they want it or not.

Disclaimer: Global Marine Business Advisors and its associated website www.gmba.blue are not registered legal entities. GMBA is a network of independent marine industry advisors. In all articles the opinions expressed are those of the author and does not necessarily reflect those of GMBA