Lobbying is when individuals or organisations seek to have direct or indirect influence on policy-making and implementation. Different kinds of organisations carry out lobbying activities: businesses and their representatives; lobby consultancies; law firms, which are specifically hired to lobby on behalf of a third party; trade unions; think tanks and civil society organisations such as NGOs or religious groups. In Brussels it is estimated that there are 20-30,000 lobbyists, making it the most active lobby capital in the world, apart from Washington DC.
Successful lobbying involves persuading a target (a commissioner, a Member of the European Parliament, an EU official) that you can be trusted, that you know what you are talking about and that it would be right for them to implement what you are asking. This persuasion can happen in a huge variety of ways.
The simplest ways to lobby include: meeting with officials or politicians; circulating briefings or other policy statements; organising events with decision-makers; securing media coverage of your issue, and many other activities which seek to influence legislation, policy-making and implementation. Another handy tactic at the EU level is to become a member of a Commission advisory group as this can provide you with a direct forum to influence the earliest stages of decision-making. Other popular yet controversial tactics include providing MEPs with suggested amendments to draft legislation that they are debating in the Parliament.
Lobbying can also involve spending a lot of money. Some groups try to seek influence by sending gifts to public decision-makers; hosting lavish breakfasts, dinners or cocktail parties; funding 'neutral' cross-party groups that meet regularly in order to help build relationships with MEPs; organising promotional exhibitions; using official EU buildings to organise events to which lobby targets are invited; and even inviting public officials and politicians to go on expenses-paid visits (to overseas offices, factories, energy plants...) to help promote their case further.
All of this lobbying goes on in Brussels (and in many of our capital cities too). Sometimes lobby firms even try to recruit former MEPs, commissioners and officials who have insider know-how and political networks which can also boost lobbying influence. This phenomenon is known as the 'revolving door'.
When decision-making is not as transparent and accessible as it should be, those that have an active interest in EU affairs need to invest time and resources into finding out what is going on in Brussels. This inevitably means that those that have more time and more resources in the first place are better able to obtain up-to-date information about upcoming meetings and legislative initiatives and as a result, they are better equipped to make sure their voice is heard throughout the policy debate.
You can read our guide for MEPs “Navigating the lobby labyrinth” here.