Why fuck you is never a great lobby strategy

I like Lilly Allen’s music. There is a refreshing honesty to the lyrics of Fuck You. Much though I like the song, I would not adopt the sentiment of “Fuck you (fuck you).Fuck you very, very much” as a lobbying strategy.

But, I realize I am an exception, and the  “Fuck you (fuck you), Fuck you very, very much” school of outreach seems to be en vogue at the moment.

NGOs and industry all seem to be getting into the mood and writing what amount to Lilly Allen’s words to the European Commission when the Commission don’t do what others would want them to do. If it works, please let me know.

 

Old School

Personally, I go for a more-old school approach.

I’d recommend that anyone who is in the business of persuasion read Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It is a classic.

After reading that, you may opt for a different style.

I prefer some clearly novel approaches, such as:

  1. Does the writing pass the 7 pm on a Friday evening test – can what you wrote be understood in one read through by a non expert
  2. Civility
  3. Provide solutions to their problems – even if you disagree with the end game
  4. Provide feed in from genuine experts, and if you can show they are incorrect based on their own game rules even better
  5. If you disagree with their decisions, don’t take it out on the officials personally

I learned from many years working for them, that officials and politicians have long memories. There is no reason to be rude to them; if you are constructive and civil, they may one day come around to promoting your position.

I have no fear that my novel approach will catch on.

What is your blueprint for delivering your policy goals?

In every piece of law I have worked as a political adviser, regulator, campaigner or lobbyist you ask yourself how to get from where you are to where you want to be in a given time period.

For example, in air pollution, what amounts to air quality that is ultra safe, means the total industrialisation of Europe overnight, no carbon based transport and carbon based transport. Ah, and even then you are no where near where you need to be anytime soon.

In 1997, that was seen as too radical. As my politician had no idea on how to get to those levels, without rather large changes, less ambitious, but safe and deliverable levels were aimed for. Many were  met.

 

And, there was the realisation in the back of the mind that the major changes needed would kill a lot more people than would ever hypothetically be saved. Fortunately, Europe backs, as a general rule, risk regulation, and not hazard based regulation.

So, a responsible politician or regulator works out what is technically feasible, what is likely to happen, and set rules in place to help that happen.

No responsible politician or regulator sets standards that are, in reality, better than natural levels of air pollution, or impossible to achieve today or anytime soon.

Even the most progressive politicians I have worked for see that as ga ga , and ushers the tin foil brigade out the room. I was lucky Learning that lesson in 1997. So, I will always walk in with a feasible and costed plan that can deliver. It tends to be copied by politicians and regulators.

I find if people don’t walk in with plans, which are clear and written down, are politely ushered out after a short period of time.

It’s what good politicians and regulators want and if it’s what they want, give it to them.

Will 1st Vice-President Timmermans Apply Law Making Agreement to EU Chemical Bans?

DG GROW is about to propose 13 new chemical substances to be phased out and banned.

If you are a customer of these substances you will likely have no idea that it is happening.  And, unless Directorate General (DG) GROW and Environment  make some unforeseen procedural error or scientific error, you are  only going to find out in a few months time that a substance that was vital for you is going to be banned.

You could have found out if you are part of a very large company and could afford to pay for staff to track the consultations of Europe’s Chemical Agency. But, if you are company focused on the business of business you are going to be in for a very nasty surprise.

Europe’s chemical law, known as REACH, have a big impact. British small and medium-sized companies rate it as the second most difficult piece of EU  law to deal with (after the EU’s working time laws).  All too often, companies find out very late in the day from their supplier that a substance which is a vital ingredient of their production process is going to be banned.

Last Chance Saloon – Better Regulation To the Rescue?

There is a basic problem with how the EU passes chemical bans. They are adopted in relative secrecy.

You don’t know when the Commission is putting forward the proposal to phase out a substance. It is not listed anywhere online. Some in the Commission are genuinely surprised that people busy making a living in tough markets are not constantly following the work of the Chemical Agency in Helsinki and tracking the state of play on what is likely to be hundreds, if not thousands, of chemical substances that they use.

The Commission’s new Better Law Making rules  offered a ray of hope that people impacted by these bans and restrictions could let the powers that be know of some important use that was at stake.  Under the Commission’s self-commitments under the Better Law Making Agreement, the Commission would be required to subject proposals to validation, Road Maps, impact assessment and pre-proposal adoption public consultation.

Under these rules, there is no reason that draft delegated or implementing acts for substance bans and restrictions – that impact thousands of users, even if the substance bans or restriction, may only be targeted at one or a few producers –   could not be subject to the Better Law Making self commitments.  Even the use of the  validation, Road Map and the  public consultation before the College of Commissioners adopted a proposal for a substance ban or restriction, and  adding 4 extra weeks to a process that has taken a few years is not a major hurdle.

How to stop Vice-President Timmermans being hoodwinked

It may even alert Vice-President Timmermans of some life saving use of a substance that is going to be banned and put lives at risk. Stranger things have happened. He has is meant to be against the seeming never-ending flow of Commission proposals from what at times seems to be a self-directing Commission Services, immune from political control by the Commissioners, let alone the President and his Vice-President.

At the moment, the Vice-President and other Commissioners will only know if there is an issue if the DG Grow and Environment write in their papers that there is a problem.  They tend not to highlight any problems with their proposals. As these two department  exclude substances bans and restrictions away from the screening process of Better Law Making, from the provision of Road Maps to let alone Impact Assessments and even a final 4 weeks public consultation, you can understand why the College of Commissioners have very little idea about the bans and restrictions they are signing off on.

Why Officials Prefer Secret Law Making

I can understand why civil servants, focused on administrative efficiency, would seek to persuade Vice-President Timmermans that substance bans and restrictions should not fall under the Better Law Making rules.  Impact Assessments, listing on Road Maps, being subject to public consultation screenings, should not impede the phasing out of some chemical substances.

These diligent officials will say, in some cases fairly, that most users and producers have been following the process through ECHA. The bans and restrictions are no surprise. They’ll claim that these legal measures are of individual impact and should not be subject to this process. It would, to the uninitiated, seem fair to create a small but extra check and balance.

Unfortunately, as I have sought to imperfectly explain, there are many good reasons why people using chemical substances for vital purposes will have missed the ECHA process. The last chance of letting the European Commission, beyond the masters of the file at DG GROW and Environment, that some vital use has been overlooked and will be snuffed out with the ban or restriction, seems only fair.  It sounds only rational if the Commission is serious about Better Law Making.

Member States in the Dark

The Members of the Member State Committee that first votes on the Commission’s proposal are not make public. The proposal is not public until the Member State Committee vote on it. Some Member States, with more developed traditions of open law making, make consult their national trade associations.

 

Open Law Making Can Happen

Substances bans under the RoHS Directive are done differently. Public Consultations are organised by the Commission. This can, and does, lead to unknown uses being made public, and can lead to proposals being altered.

We will know on 1st July, when the Better Law Making self commitments come into force, whether the forces of open law making have won in the Commission.