All you need to know how to influence the EU in one easy chart

A former WWF colleague introduced me to to this chart a few years ago. It comes from Daniel Guegen. I think it is excellent. It accurately explains how the EU works.

Winning the  Battle of Ideas

In 1997, I was younger and had come to Brussels to work for a British Labour MEP. I had just left University academic life and was very naive.

I asked two very experienced officials in DG Environment, who had passed many environmental laws, how much of an original Commission proposal got changed. They ventured between 10% – 15%.

Over time,  that number has stuck with me. I personally think that the number is less than 10%. Sometimes, millions are spent on lobbying,  and at the end of the day, very little changes from the Commission’s original proposal.

That  took me to thinking what is the most effective way to influence the Commission before they adopt a proposal, so what they publish looks similar or indentical to what you wanted in the first place.

I read a lot and borrowed a lot of  tips.

In “Think Tanks, Public Policy and the Politics of Expertise” I came across an excellent idea (well there are many). The one I really like is having a proposal and the supporting material sitting in the filing cabinet, ready for the day when an official or politician asks you for the solution to a problem. I’d recommend all organisations have a set of ready to adopt proposals sitting in the filing cabinets, waiting for the day a call comes from an official or politician looking for the solution to a problem.

I have used this idea. It really works. When working on fisheries at WWF, we knew the Commission had to produce a mid-term review of the CFP. It is set out in the law, so it was easy to predict that interest was going to peak at a certain time in the near future.

Stealing ideas again, this time from from Cialdini, we commissioned the leading experts on European fisheries, MRAG, to produce a shadow review of the CFP. And, to make sure we were not winding up the Commission, we passed a draft to them and gave them carte blanche to make any corrections.

The side effect of being non-confrontational, using peer experts, and producing the report in a timely way  was that the Commission’s final set of proposals for the reform of the CFP looked very similar to the WWF mid term review.
This was not easy to get out the door. The report was not a vindication of all WWF positions. There was pressure to edit the report so it said  what some colleagues wanted it to say. The report was commissioned and paid for by WWF but it did not reflect all WWF’s positions. But, it supported many (around 90% of WWF’s positions).

There is an advantage letting go and letting others speak on your behalf, even if they don’t agree with everything you believe in or want. Your ideas get taken up more often.

If you want ideas to be taken up, it does not happen by accident.

I learned the following.

Magazines: A story in the National Geographic will have many key opinion formers calling you. The Economist will have Cabinets and key MEPs asking you in for a visit.

Newspapers: Coverage in the FT, New Yorks Time, Guardian, Times of London, the Sunday Times,  Le Monde or La Fiagoro will have your phone ringing off the hook the day after.

Academics: Each field has its key academics and research consultancies. These are the go to people that politicians and governments tap for advice. You’ll know who they are, and if you are smart, you will have the same experts on your pay roll for advice. There are super academics, like Cal Sunstein on risk and regulation or Vaclav Smil on energy, whose intervention will skyrocket your issue.

Policy circuit: Each field will have its key circuit of think tanks and research centres that are exploring the latest ideas and thinking in your field. You’ll of course be on that circuit. It is a great place to identify what is coming up in the near future. Those summer schools and policy retreats are a great place to mingle to better understand what’s driving the policy agenda.

Think Tanks: If think tanks did not have an influence, organisations would not spend so much on them. But, perhaps like advertising, the hard part is working out what half of the money is having a positive impact. I think Conservatives have seen the long term power of ideas and invested in think tanks, especially in the USA and the UK. The long term  investment in Hertiage Foundation , Cato Institute, and the UK’s  IEA has paid off. The long term game plan was deliberate. Those funding the the center left and left has been less focused on the “battle of ideas”, and the lack of a clear and persuasive narrative today stands out.

Drafting Phase

Ideas for the Commission’s work programme do not come out of no-where (whatever the Daily Mail says).

Today, there is less chance for issues to be tabled that are on not in the Commission’s Work Programme or the Commission President’s Priorities.

The Commission’s Work Programme is published the end of October.  A few organisations are smart and focus a lot of effort getting their proposals taken up then.

The easy way to do this is to work back from September, when proposals are being firmed up.

I think the easiest way is using the following paths:

  • Parliamentary Questions
  • Council Statements/Declarations
  • Member State(s) interventions
  • Trailing the idea on the conference circuit many months in advance
  • EP own initiative reports
  • Using legislative reviews as a pretext to open up a directive
  • Using the DG’s Strategic Plan (4 year plan) and Annual Plan
  • Frequent contact with key officials in DG and Cabinets
  • Following the Commission’s own think tank, European Political Strategy Centre
  • Working with main political Parties think tanks


A Checklist for getting the right law

I enjoyed “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande.

It puts forward a simple idea to avoid mistakes. Use a checklist to work through the action steps you need to take. It is used by pilots. Gawande wants doctors to use it to reduce accidents in surgery.

I think  political campaigners and lobbyists would benefit a lot from using checklists.

My checklist for getting a piece of EU legislation on the books would look something like this:


  1. Is your issue/amendment Legal – will the legal service of the Commission, EP or Council squash it?
  2. Will the Commission table the proposal?
  3. Can you get it tabled by a DG or Commissioner?
  4. Can you issue past the Regulatory Scrutiny Board?
  5. Is your issue in line with the Commission’s Political Guidelines and Better Regulation Toolbox?
  6. Can  you it through Inter-Service Consultation?
  7. Can you get a Rapporteur, shadow Rapporteur or  key MEP to back your issue at the Committee stage?
  8. Can you get a simple majority of MEPs at Committee stage to back your issue/amendment?
  9. Can you get a simple majority of MEPs are plenary to back your issue/amendment?
  10. Can you get enough Member States to support your issue/amendment – no blocking minority?
  11. If the Commission does not support the issue/amendment, will they let it go forward?
  12. Do you have a clear and compelling case to support your position?
  13. Do you have independent experts validating your position?
  14. Do you have the information / studies available at the right time?
  15. Do you have a list of the 250 people in Europe and their contacts who will decide your issue?
  16. Do you know how they stand on your issue?
  17. Do you have access to these people in most (although not necessarily) all Member States
  18. Do you champions and poster childs who will be the face of your campaign?
  19. Do you have a budget for your campaign? Is the budget enough?
  20. Do you have a campaign plan to get you from where you are to where you want to be
  21. Do you have material to roll out in your campaign?
  22. Do you material that will persuade only your natural political allies or do you have a material to bring about a winning coalition?
  23. Do you have people who can persuade key decision makers or do they just antagonise the key decision makers?
  24. Can you make your issue interesting enough that key people will back it even if there is no direct gain for them?
  25. Does the timetable align? Can you get the Commission to table your proposal in the Annual Work Programme (October) or outside?
  26. Do you have a good working relationship with the right media and think tanks so your issue can be taken up?
  27. Do you already have a two pager in your filing cabinet and an elvator pitch to hand over if you get called up at the last moment?


The fewer things you can say yes today on this list , the less chance you have of getting what you want.