How to measure political lobbying success in Brussels

I have been asked too often “how do you measure success working in Brussels”.  What they often mean is how can I show if the work I am doing here is influencing things.

I have taken advantage of an enforced sick leave to go through some old notes and books to write up some “metrics” to answer that question. I am drawing on more than 20 years working in Brussels, drawing from my time legislating in the EP and Commission, working as a lobbyist for NGOs and industry, and sometime academic.


What does success look like

As a political consultant I guess I am not meant to say this, but I often don’t think the political path will work, and sometimes there is no point in doing down a political course.

But, when it is needed, it makes sense to have some clear objectives and goals from the very start.

By that I don’t mean whether we’ll have a clean ocean by 2020 or for EU politicians to all back sound science in all their decisions. They are aspirations or dreams. I mean whether the policies and laws will help get you what you want.

Sometimes the end game is clear.  Can you help a client stop a proposal to ban their product or service?  At the end of the day, the proposal is adopted or not. They are in business or not. Sometimes, the goals need a lot more precision, but they can all easily be crafted down into clear and precise words.


A rule of thumb I use

Three books have influenced my thinking on this question:

Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, John W.Kingdon

Think Tanks, Public Policy, and the Politics of Expertise, Andrew Rich

Washington at Work: Back Rooms and Clean Air, Richard E. Cohen

From a US perspective, they look at who influenced the public policy debate and law making, and why. I have co-opted many of the conclusions as my own.

From this reading and 20 years I use this rule of thumb to work out if a campaign stands any hope of succeeding before a cent is spent. It works every time. I ask for a copy of the work plan and annex of the people who will make the key decisions they want to change. Most of the time no plan or list is forthcoming.  The idea of changing the debate, let alone the law, is just an idea in someone’s head, and that idea is dead on arrival.


Cheerleaders not needed

I am adamant that there is no point just turning up. Its expensive to do and a waste of time and money. You go into this to change things.  That said, in reality, a lot of organisations turn up to observe, and have little influence.

I will go further. Whilst many spend a lot of lot of resources (whether industry and not for profit groups) they have no influence at all on the process. You can speak to the key decision makers at the end of the day, and they point blank tell you that they had never heard of such an organisation. It is hard to influence if you existence is not known about.


How Do Salespeople and Politicians measure success

Often people playing in the political and policy process are reluctant to list clear tangible deliverables.

This is strange.  Salespeople don’t find it hard to do. Sales is relatively easy to track. You sell your product or service at a price and make sure you make a profit on it. There is little point in selling things at a loss, although that said, a lot of firms seem more than happy to do so.

Politicians don’t find it hard to do. They face an election every few years and elections are quite simple. You either get elected or you don’t.


How do you measure success?

Having seen a lot of proposals from all sides of the spectrum they tend to list different activities to measure, including:


  • Meetings with MEPs
  • Meetings with MEP advisors
  • Meetings with Group Advisors
  • Meeting with Commission Officials
  • Meeting with Commissioner(s)
  • Meeting with Cabinet of Commissioner(s)/Senior Officials
  • Meeting with Perm Reps
  • Meeting with Senior Official in National Capital
  • Meeting with Minister/key adviser


Opinion forming

  • Article published in influential press (e.g. F.T, Times of London)
  • Quoted in influential press (FT, Politico)
  • Commissioned Report mentioned in debate, media
  • Commissioned Reported used as the working basis for proposal/Parliamentary report


Ideas adopted

  • Amendments tabled by Commission in original Commission draft
  • Amendments adopted/supported in Inter-Service Consultation
  • Amendments adopted in final Commission proposal
  • Amendments tabled by MEP/Council
  • Amendments adopted by EP/Council
  • Amendment adopted in final legislative agreement
  • Amendment as adopted is implemented in practice


Social Media

  • Social Media re-tweet by key player as endorsement
  • Website views

I am sure there are more. Please let me know and I’ll update this blog piece.


80/20 – who counts

Whilst many people will be involved in the adoption of a piece of legislation, the people who really count, and who you should work on influencing, are not that many.

As a believer in the 80/20 principle, whenever I list out the key players involved in deciding on any piece of EU law, I come to around 500 men and women across Europe. Over time, around 100 of them are more heavily involved and influential, and the vital decisions are taken by about 20.

Sometimes the key people are going to be obvious, the Commissioner or their Cabinet lead. Sometimes, it is going to be a relatively unknown official who has the ear of the Commissioner/Minister. And, more often than not, a few unknown players will emerge that have a vital role in decisions. With experience, you’ll develop a gut feeling for identifying the vital few.

3D Chess – Often played blindfolded

At different times different processes are important. But, all too often people lump the key players into one list and presume they’ll play a similar role throughout the whole game. Such thinking is lazy. At different moments in the game different people will have vital roles and at other times not. Who counts when the Commission is adopting adoption a proposal is very different  from when the EP and Council start haggling over the final deal at 2 am.


Recommendations for Foundations and Funders

I am sometimes asked by clients and Foundations how they can find out whether the work they are doing is having a positive impact. I have come up with two solutions:

  • Track the work
  • Interview the key players at the end

At the age of 45 I start to see things quite simply. I have given up on claims of accomplishments that within a second of thinking amount to nothing more than “correlation is causation”.  I have laughed to myself at the claims people have made on the pivotal role their organisation played on a key decision to only find out after interviewing the key official who made that decision “sorry Aaron, I have never heard of them”.

It is useful to keep a track of meetings and accomplishments. It is important to let your client/donor know the result of the meeting and show what comes of it. A weekly or monthly report should help you get a good idea whether their money is working.


What really counts

For me, really only 3 things count:

  1. Do your ideas dominate and win the debate?
  2. Are your ideas taken up in the law?
  3. Is the law implemented as you wanted?

Discrimination is Just silly

I am enjoying Robert Caro’s biography “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York“.

I picked up the book on a recommendation.Caro is an excellent writer who has taken the craft of biography to the highest level.

I’ll write a longer book summary later when I have finished, it is over 1,000 pages.

There is an interesting obervation that at the elite Yale University in 1905, Jews and Catholics, whilst recently allowed admission were barred from joining the most influential organisations.



Discrimination against Jews and Catholics was common then and it lasted.  The book, “The House of Morgan” notes that J.P.Morgan barred Jews working for them until the 1970s.

The discrimination was not limited to the USA. There was a time when it was hard for Irish lawyers (who often were Catholic) to get a job in a leading London City law firm. Today, the legal mile is often called the “Green Mile”, such are the influence of Irish lawyers.

I have experienced what now seem surreal job interviews which seemed focused on my Irish and Catholic background, and seemingly far more importantly being born in Northern Ireland. That said, when I moved to the European mainland, the issue did not come up, and even a deeply Masonic university accepted me as one of their own, when I accepted the idea of “Free Thinking”.

I have grown to accept that discrimination exists. People make lots of irrational, and what seem to me to be stupid decisions. There is not a huge amount I can do about it.  What Robert Moses and Catholics showed is that by hard work, and often being far better than their competition, that even established firms who disliked them landed up employing them because the merits of doing so where so clear. You don’t hear too much about firms that don’t employ Catholics or Jews these days because their commercial lives tended to be very short.



Should Big Business Promote What They Do?

Big Business – Time to Defend Yourself?

I enjoyed this article full of good advice for big business.

Amos Stote, the author,  makes the clear case that big business can protect and enhance their reputation and profits through advertising. Letting the public know the good firms do will provide them with the public good will to defend them from attack from politicians, government and interest groups.

He writes “Yet the only way the casual citizen will ever be convinced of this is through being told in plain language just what big business does for him. He does not want to feel his dependence upon big business. No one cares for the position of the “poor relation.” He must be made to feel that big business is his big brother by being taken into its confidence and permitted to see the service which never appears on the surface. ”

Old School Advice

Amos Stote was one of the Founding Fathers of the US advertising industry. He wrote the article in 1924. Then Big Business was under attack from Communists and Socialists (in the USA).

The article and its recommendations are as relevant today as they were when it was first written. Now, as then, most of big business has abadicated their job of  informing the public of the good they are doing, and feel the economic and political consequences to this day.

21st Century Take

For a modern take I’d recommend reading Fred Smith’s piece here. Thank you for Fred for flagging the original.


Beware of the Business Muckraker by Amos Stote Beware of the Business Muckraker!

EFTA Opens Up the EU’s Secret Law Making to the Public

EFTA has opened up the secret world of EU law making by delegated legislation.

You can visit the site here or

They have put on line draft and adopted implementing and delegated acts that impact EFTA members.

This is a big step to open law making. Whilst Member States and the European Parliament – and the players who are leaked the proposals in advance –  have access to Commission proposals, the public do not.

93% of EU laws made this way

Around 93% of EU laws are adopted by what was called comitology, laws adopted by committees.  Delegated legislation is important. It is about the adopting of technical rules to make EU laws work. All countries have it. Politicians are not going to decide on the latest air quality modelling system to use for monitoring and how to transfer air quality data and information between countries. But, they ask the Commission to work with experts and Member States to come up with rules to allow that to happen. Those delegated laws are necessary.

Real laws deciding important things

Sometimes they touch on sensitive and political issues. In the last 2 years important issues have been decided that even the mainstream high end press started writing about.

Recently when the Commission tabled a piece of delegated legislation that weakened existing laws on diesel emissions from cars. A Committee of Member State officials and finally the EP agreed to it.

The importation of Canadian oil sands into Europe was given the nod after the Commission adopted a piece of delegated legislation that allowed it. Many MEPs and NGOs were surprised because they thought the issue has been settled a few years earlier in a Directive (and spent a small fortune thinking they had achieved) but they may have overlooked what the original directive had allowed for, and the Commission re-opened the matter, and tabled a proposal to allow the importation of Canadian oil sands into the EU.

EFTA Opens the System up to the European Public

Before this EFTA site went on line, proposed implementing acts were available via a Commission site that whilst public, would test a good hackers skills to find out where any of the Commission’s proposals were.

Proposed delegated acts were kept hidden from the public and officially only available to MEPs and Member State officials.

Thank you EFTA for striking an important blow for open law making.

Maybe the Commission will follow EFTA’s lead and get their game into the 21st century.



I’ll follow this up with a blog on how difficult it is stop a proposal from the Commission (whether it is a delegated or implementing act) and how opening the process up public scrutiny will help MEPs and Member States to effectively scrutinise the Commission. The Commission are just up-dating the rules under the Better Regulation package they recently agreed with the European Parliament and Council.