Why You Should Engage with the European Parliament and how
It’s crucial that organizations develop strong relationships with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) when new policy is being developed. This is beneficial for businesses, civil society, and for the wider work of the EU Parliament, which relies on the real-world expertise of stakeholders to gauge the impact of policy decisions. The EU welcomes your voice on upcoming legislation.
But connecting with the European Parliament can seem daunting, and many stakeholders assume it’s off-limits to them. Often, organizations who want to get involved just don’t know where to start.
While other EU Institutions, like the European Commission, actively invite stakeholder contributions through publicly advertised consultation processes, influencing the European Parliament requires a little more effort. To connect with MEPs, organizations need to understand who’s who, how the Parliament works, and when they should reach out.
By getting to grips with the basics, stakeholders can build important relationships across the Parliament. The European Parliament holds important – and increasing – decision-making power and getting MEPs to understand what your organization stands for and view points can drastically boost your impact on EU policy.
Our mission at Ohana is to support organizations in engaging with policymakers on sustainability policies. We’ve seen first-hand how working with the European Parliament can provide companies and organisations with a valuable network of policy support as well as helping you stay up to date with key EU decisions and strengthening your presence in the EU as a whole.
Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help guide your sustainability strategy? Get in touch!
The European Parliament represents the voice of the people
To grasp the importance of the European Parliament you need to understand how the EU works – you can take a look at our primer for a more detailed overview.
The European Parliament is unique among EU bodies as the only institution directly elected by citizens. Each EU country votes for a number of MEPs in proportion to its population.
Much like a national parliament, the European Parliament is sub-divided into political parties, and it’s work is comprised of several committees (22) in addition to intergroups, each with a specific work area e.g. environment, public health, transport or industry policy.
The role of the Parliament in policy decisions
The European Parliament plays a major role in shaping EU policy. The EU’s main legislative procedure is the “co-decision process”, which means that, once the European Commission proposes a law, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers jointly “co-decide” whether to amend or approve the new legislation. Policy only becomes law if it’s approved by both bodies. Check out our previous guide on how to engage with the EU co-decision process for an in-depth account.
It’s worth noting that the EU Parliament also has the power to allocate budgets and acts as a watchdog, ensuring that institutions like the European Commission are acting in the best interests of its citizens.
MEPs can raise questions and concerns within the Parliament, but also to other institutions like the European Commission. That means that the impact of engaging with MEPs reverberates outward into the Commission and other bodies. If MEPs understand and agree with your views on an issue, they can communicate them throughout the major policy bodies.
The benefits of engaging with the EU Parliament
As one of the EU’s three main decision-making bodies, the EU Parliament exerts a powerful influence on policies that affect and accelerate companies and their sustainability goals and strategies.
Engaging with the Parliament can help stakeholders to directly influence the MEP vote on specific pieces of legislation. But it can also raise awareness of industry issues in a more general way. MEPs can initiate debates, table questions and produce reports, so getting on their radar can amplify your voice across multiple parliamentary processes.
The European Parliament also has a reputation for being particularly progressive on all things green, with some researchers considering the institution an “environmental champion” thanks to the strong stance it’s taken on climate issues over the years. That means companies keen to act strongly on sustainability will likely find a range of receptive MEPs.
But communication with MEPs doesn’t flow in only one direction: it’s a two-way exchange. As well as informing representatives of their needs, organizations with strong MEP relationships can access a valuable stream of information on what’s happening in the European Parliament and other institutions. That allows them to better prepare for upcoming policy shifts and decision-making processes.
How to engage with the European Parliament
Now that we’ve established the importance of getting involved with the European Parliament, let’s look at how to go about it. Here are some of the most effective strategies we use at Ohana.
Find the right people to focus on
It can be difficult for organizations to know which MEPs, parties, and committees to target.
The first step is to find out who the key movers and shakers are in the policy area you want to engage with.
Organisations need to get savvy on who’s making the decisions that affect their industry and the issues important to their company. That means staying at the pulse of what’s happening in the EU.
Before legislation even arrives at the European Parliament for approval, MEPs will have formed initial positions and put together an own initiative report, which you can use to understand their thinking. Don’t wait until the official legislative processes start – connect as early as you can with all MEPs relevant to your policy areas of interest.
The first step is understanding who the main experts are in your area within the main political parties, national delegations and committees as well as Parliament as a whole.
Our key tips on how to find the right people are:
- Sign up for newsletters from EU institutions
- Follow leading MEPs and other EU voices on social media
- Join public engagement networks for your industry
- Listen to EU webinars related to your areas of interest
- Look through the register of MEPs to get a sense of their areas of interest
This all helps with figuring out which MEPs are most influential or relevant for your needs, which is where you should invest your time and energy.
Build relationships with rapporteurs and committees
Rapporteurs play a leading role within specific policy decisions, and it’s imperative that you connect with them as early as possible. The Parliament works through committees of MEPs responsible for new policy proposals in specific areas, and names one member the “rapporteur” to lead the negotiations.
The rapporteur is responsible for leading the discussion and preparing an in-depth report on the proposal, getting input from the policy committee but also from external specialists, NGOs and industry representatives. Rapporteurs are typically linked with a political party, so other parliamentary parties often appoint shadow rapporteurs who also engage with the process.
Business leaders looking to influence a particular policy area should learn who the rapporteur and shadow rapporteurs are early on and establish strong relationships with them from the very start.
That means you should:
- Introduce yourself to the committee members
- Arrange one-on-one meetings with the rapporteur
- Identify any shadow rapporteurs and contact them, too
- Stay in touch with your contacts, by email and by attending any events they hold, during the whole policy process, and beyond.
Ideally, your input will be included in the rapporteur’s report, which is a key document in the decision-making process.
Organizations new to Brussels tend to think they can show up late in the game, when policy amendments are being tabled, and have a say – but it’s only by building a long-term relationship of trust that you’ll really be heard by rapporteurs and committees.
By connecting early with the rapporteur and committee, you can get your voice heard when changes are still being made. By the time policy passes from committee discussions to the European Parliament vote, most of the amendments have already been determined.
It’s important, though, that you continue to engage with the rapporteur and committee even when legislation has moved past their jurisdiction. No one likes feeling used, and if you abandon MEPs once their part of the policy process is over, you miss out on opportunities to create lasting relationships that could impact other initiatives.
Establish long-term visibility
Companies should engage for the long haul. Yes, it’s critical to make your voice heard on concrete policy decisions – but your larger goal is to establish a strong presence within the Parliament.
MEPs play an important role in stimulating policy discussion, getting topics on the parliamentary agenda, and deciding which specialists to consult – so you need to ensure you’re on their radar, and that they know and trust you.
- Signing up for EU newsletters and checking the EU calendar to determine important events
- Ensuring you’re present at key events to make your voice heard
- Arranging to meet individual MEPs for coffee and conversation (or the virtual equivalent)
- Staying in touch either with regular face-to-face meetings or by email/phone
- Establishing a social media presence through online blogging or social media
This all lets MEPs know what your company stands for and what your plans are. Having a strong web presence will also help policy makers to find you when they’re seeking input from representatives in your industry.
By staying in touch with your parliamentary contacts every step of the way, you’ll build a meaningful long-term relationship and gain their support when you need it. When it comes to engagement with EU policy, the key is to get in early and stay in.
Team up with key allies
One of the easiest ways to get a footing in the European Parliament is by reaching out to MEPs, parties, and committees you have something in common with. You could start by contacting the local MEPs who represent your company’s home region or countries you do a lot of business in – H&M Group might develop a special relationship with Swedish representatives, for example.
MEPs often hold public surgeries in their home constituencies, and you can also get in touch more informally with your national representatives and establish a close connection. Also take a look at MEPs who are members of region-specific interest groups (like the different chapters of Protect Our Winters) who may be able to really relate to your organization and push your voice on the parliamentary stage.
It’s also key to make friends with the biggest political groups with the Parliament. Companies committed to sustainable, ethical business practices should forge alliances with parties like the Greens, Socialists & Democrats (S&D), the European People’s Party (EPP), and Renew (RE). Don’t think only in terms of one issue – connect with a range of potential allies and make sure they understand your concerns and views.
You should also strive to connect with the main committees who work on due diligence and environmental policy amongst others. These include:
- Committee on on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI)
- Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE)
- Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI)
- Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI)
- Committee on International Trade (INTA)
The European Parliament also has intergroups, which don’t have legislative power but play a key role in promoting informal discussions on policy issues. Several of them are focused on green issues, including the Green Deal, climate action and reversing biodiversity loss.
Another strategy for building alliances is collaborating with stakeholders in the policymaking process by teaming up with companies in your industry or organizations who have shared goals and values. You can then address the European Parliament as a group, which will hold more sway.
Finally, it’s important to note that specific interest groups looking to access the EU Parliament to influence policymaking should get themselves on the Transparency Register and request an annual accreditation
Engaging successfully with the European Parliament
The European Parliament might seem less accessible than other EU institutions, but with a little effort and research, it’s possible for companies to build meaningful, lasting relationships with MEPs.
We’ve delved into several of the most effective strategies for engaging with the Parliament:
- Focusing on key decision-makers
- Connecting with committees and rapporteurs
- Getting yourself seen
- Working with allies
To make an impact, businesses need to maintain key relationships and stay up to date on what’s happening in the European Parliament so they’re ready to act when policy changes are on the table – the earlier the better. If you need support, Ohana’s here – we support businesses and organizations throughout the EU who want to engage with public affairs on sustainability and develop effective sustainability strategies.
Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help you to build meaningful relationships with policymakers? Ohana can help guide your sustainability strategy and support you in connecting with EU institutions. Get in touch!
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