Brussels Behind Closed Doors

What can a 20 year documentary teach you about making laws

What can a 20 year documentary teach you about making laws

In 1997, I had the honour to work for British Labour MEP, Anita Pollack.   Anita gave me the chance to help pass my first piece of EU environmental legislation.  Anita helped steer through a ground-breaking piece of air quality legislation for the then EU 15.

I learned a lot. I have worked on a lot more environmental and fisheries legislation since.

I decided to mark the 20 years since the adoption of the law to re-watch a UK Channel 4 documentary that followed the directive’s passage. This fly on the wall documentary is uncannily accurate. Today, it catches how, even today, EU laws are developed, negotiated, and agreed. There has not been a programme like it since.

Today, many of the key players involved in the process have retired. Some are still active.

Council Directive relating to limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and lead in ambient air (link) has now been updated. It met some of targets. Air pollution still harms our health in some countries.

What is striking is that even though a lot has changed, many things remain unchanged.

What struck me is that in over 20 years, is that  the reasons given to not act, or to wait before acting, are basically the same. The posturing that economic Armageddon will occur if environmental standards are improved are still too often recited like ancient holy recitals.  Many countries oppose any measures that costs anything to implement.

I have listed a set of personal observations drawn from 3 episodes.

1-15 are things that have changed. 15-65 are as common today as they were 20 years ago.



  1. Political agreement was secured in then record time. It took just 3 years for the law to be developed to final adoption.
  2. In 1997, was the height of the UK’s political influence in the EU under PM Blair. Germany allied with their natural UK ally.
  3. The UK Labour Group held 62 of the UK’s 87 seats.
  4. The S&D Group were the largest group in the EP.
  5. This was an EU of 15 progressive Member States. Austria, Finland and Sweden had recently joined on 1st January 1995.
  6. The UK held the EU Presidency from 1 January to 30 June 1997. Today, the UK skipped their Presidency as they prepare to the leave the EU.
  7. Ken Collins (S&D/UK) was the dominant chair of the Environment Committee. This Scot ruled the Committee with an iron will.
  8. The Environment Committee was the most active legislative committee in the EP. With 45 members only the Foreign Affairs (53), Agriculture (46) and Economic and Monetary (52) were more, but they did not have to trouble themselves with legislating.
  9. I see this time as environment policy’s high-water market. The big hitters of Svend Auken, Denmark’s Minister for the Environment and Energy, and even Ms. Angela Merkel, Germany’s Minister of the Environment (link),  were in office.
  10. The EP was coming of political age. Jacques Santer’s Commission was being pushed out because of wrong doing by French Commissioner Cresson on 15 March 1999.
  11. Ritt Bjerregaard (Denmark/S&D) served as the Environment Commissioner. She was a powerful and determined progressive political player who relished her role.
  12. She was one of the 20 Commissioner. This was a time when 5 large countries got 2 seats and the remaining 15 got 1.
  13. The Channel 4 documentary was the first fly on the wall documentary about the EU passes laws. I don’t think it has been repeated.
  14. Britain showed environmental leadership. A British Presidency secured a British official’s drafted text, steered through by a British MEP.
  15. DG 11/ENV brought forward an annual slew of ambitious legislative proposals
  16. People sometimes forget the heroic task of bringing together quarrelsome families together. It is a wonder to see.
  17. The system is designed on consensus. As soon as a proposal out the door of the Commission, the point of destination is agreement. The point of arrival is never too far from DG Environment’s original intent.
  18. The best chance to influence a Commission’s proposal is before it is issued.
  19. Most lobbyists – NGOs and industry – and Member States step in too late in the day. They get to tinker at the margins.
  20. The UK Mission to the EU (Perm Reps), UKREP, were then still getting used to Labour MEPs. We had been so long out of power for so long they simply never returned any calls. Many Perm Reps today still lack the political touch with their MEPs.
  21. Air pollution is still a problem today.
  22. Today, we know a lot more about Particulate Matter today than we did then. We were not precautionary enough. The real harmful particulate, the ultra-small PM 2.5, were left untouched. The science indicated it was the problem but we not sure enough. We ignored it for a few years. We came back to target it.
  23. Poor Air pollution makes our health worse. It fills up hospitals and spurs death rates upwards. Today, we better understand why.
  24. The Presidency needs to be impartial and not promote their own national interest during their 6 months chairmanship. Some countries find this etiquette hard to follow.
  25. Air pollution is a serious problem in many cities in the summer. Fate intervened in plenary vote in Strasbourg and set off air pollution alerts. These political stunts continue to help win big votes. I really did not create that event.
  26. Voting lists for different national Party groups vary. You need to follow them. Some countries set the votes for their MEPs.
  27. Industry kept submitting their recommendations after the voting lists had been prepared.
  28. The Group Rapporteur writes out the voting lists and many groups are very loyal in following Group voting. If you don’t get in early, you are not going have much impact.
  29. DG ENV has been chronically understaffed for decades. 20 years it dealt with a lot of new proposals. Today, few new laws come from them.
  30. The speaking points  and the language they use from  industry and NGO lobbyists seems unchanged in 20 years. It had no cross-party influence then. Why so few people have changed their game plan from a 20-year losing streak is strange.
  31. Cross party and cross-country voting coalitions work best. In 1997, Northern Member States voted against the South (which included France).
  32. Legislation is all about winning votes and the person with the most votes wins. This is the most fundamental law and too many people just know it, or at least ignore it.
  33. Taking action to help the public’s health is not cheap – €5 billion at the time – but it is cost effective.
  34. Most Governments dislike the idea of informing their own people about things. Public information on air pollution gets people asking for change. It actually bring about change. Many Member States air quality machines were defective and under-reported the real state of air pollution.
  35. If you want to avoid  an issue, just adopt a “review clause”.
  36. Spain, Greece and France all fought against binding air pollution limits back in 1997.
  37. Bringing publicity into legislation makes it a lot more difficult for politicians and civil servants to object.
  38. If your Political Group is strong in the EP, you can steamroller your position through the EP. But, you have to have the votes.
  39. The Chair of the Environment Committee’s  key power is where he puts your item on the agenda. Ken Collins put Anita Pollack’s work at the top of the agenda.  We got to take the file through the Parliament in record time.
  40. A lot of interests against the proposal were just to slow keeping up.
  41. Turning up to meetings with expensive watches on to Social Democrat MEP and talking about “jobs and growth” is a sure way of getting them to reject your position.
  42. Very few politicians beyond the right of the EPP ever bought the “jobs & growth” line in 1997. I don’t think much has changed in 20 years.
  43. Political hard work by a MEP in Brussels is likely to be unrecognised back home by the Party or constituents. Anita Pollack was not re-elected in 1999.
  44. Back home is where political power comes from and remains.
  45. The Member States in 1997 was more powerful than it is today, but it is still the ultimate centre of power.
  46. The Council has and always likely will represent the lions of national self-interest.
  47. The best way to influence National Ministers is back home in their capitals and ideally in their constituency.
  48. Spain did not think the science was clear. They argued that no action should be taken until the science is clear. The real reason for blocking was the cost. When scientific uncertainty is raised experienced players know the likely real reason is money.
  49. Labour veteran politician, the late Michael Meacher, made the key decisions for the UK. Civil servants’ advise and elected politicians decide. They really do.
  50. There is a lot of paper of work.
  51. The key skill is the ability to write clear, precise and concise briefings. Very few people can. Those who can, tend to win more votes.
  52. Back in 1997, most of the negotiations took place over the phone and email. Meetings are there to shake hands on a compromise. Not much has changed.
  53. The Presidency and Commission work very closely together to secure a deal.
  54. The Presidency’s role is to secure a compromise and works to get that.
  55. The Environment Attaches are often friends. When you spend 3 days a week with a group of people, you are likely to become friends with them. Compromise is actively sought.
  56. Member States officials are there to keep the Commission in check.
  57. The EP see their job to scrutinise the Commission, and often to re-table the amendments DG ENV has lost in inter-service consultation
  58. If you don’t do compromise, you need to leave Brussels.
  59. If you are a nomad,  become a MEP. You live from a suitcase in Brussels and your constituency (when the real work starts). Everyone, but French MEPs,  dislike Strasbourg. The real work is done in Brussels.
  60. The UK, whatever Party in power, has always taken a business friendly and pragmatic approach
  61. Scientific expertise is listened to but is seen by many politicians as too cautious. The memory of the WHO calling out BSE wrongly made many MEPs seeing the WHO’s standards as too cautious.Today, scientists are listened to, but politicians decide. It has been like that for thousands of year.
  62. Expert groups of scientist make compromises. It is clear that a Risk Assessment seems to be an art and not a science.
  63. Law making at times looks a like a steamroller driver in a hurry.
  64. Bringing public information into legislation makes it a lot more difficult for politicians and civil servants to object. National governments know this and tend to fight public information.
  65. The best way to make your position seem very reasonable is to get a Swedish MEP to say “in Sweden, we have a system, and it works”. I had the fun job of provoking a very nice Swedish MEP to say this in the Environment Committee one day. All of a sudden, people who we knew were going to vote against us, backed us. Politicians back ambition but not dreams.



How a NGO can win a campaign in Brussels

I have just re-watched a Channel 4 fly on the wall documentary, “Brussels behind closed doors”. It is a documentary about how an EU directive on air quality was adopted.

I know about this is obscure documentary because I worked for the Rapporteur, Anita Pollack MEP, on the adoption of this legislation. I learned a lot. For the next 20 years I have found myself working on legislation or campaigning to influence that legislation.

Re-watching got me thinking to  the best ways to influence EU policy.

Below, I have listed 26 points that I think a NGO would use if they really wanted to win.


  1. Have the proposal on the back of your pocket

The first thing you need is the draft law, along with the explanatory memorandum and supporting evidence, in your back pocket.

If you don’t have this, it is evidence that you really do not know what you want. If you can’t show an interested legislator at a moment’s notice what you want, in how the law or policy should look like, you are a not being serious. You are bystander to events and not an instigator.


  1. Be patient, wait for events

Good things take time to come about. I have shopped around policy solutions when the interest on the issue was too low. But, legislation has a habit of being tabled because of unforeseen events.

When your issue pops up in the political headlines and garners interest, this is your moment to move.  Seize the opportunity.


  1. Have the experts with you

Important public policy decisions are not made on the whim. There are a lot of checks and balances built in.

If you want to move things forward, you are going to have to have a group of select experts lined up to support you.

You are likely to have on staff, or experts on retainer, or at least some of the leading minds from academia and think tanks on speed dial. They will be ready to explain the supporting volumes of reports and studies that you have commissioned to support your case.

  1. Respond to the agenda

Issues on the political agenda come and go. They also return.  Your job is to respond to them and catch the wind when it blows in your direction.

You can work tirelessly on an issue for decades, but if you miss the opportunity of new found interest from a Commissioner, minister, or politician you will have to wait another decade in the political wilderness.

  1. Use celebrities

There is something about a photoshoot of a naked Greta Saatchi holding a cod that grabs interest.  I don’t understand why, but I know that all of sudden a lot of people become interested in the issue and very sympathetic to you.

There is a reason to use celebrities. They help your cause.


  1. Wear a tie and jacket

People have prejudices. It is helpful at times to confound them.

I am perplexed that even today a lot of people think that a NGOs campaigner wears a horse hair shirt to work. I always had that the uniform of the US west coast: chinos, shirt and sports jacket. For senior level meetings, a tie can be added.


  1. Know the rules of the game

If you don’t know how the fundamental processes for the adoption of legislation, I think it makes sense to seek another career.

I guesstimate that there are around 40 key processes for EU law. I would add another 10 for certain fields.

Strangely, most people are not aware of them. Even a lot of legislators and regulators are not aware of them. This is not for you. You will have a good grasp of the procedures you are dealing with.


  1. Know the 500, 250, 25 key players

You are going to have a rolodex of key people in Europe who decide and influence your issue. This is going to be made up of Ministers, their advisers, Commissioners,  Cabinet leads, civil servants, MEPs, MPs, experts, think tanks and key journalists.  It is around 500 to 250 people.

You are also going to have an institutive feeling for the who the key 25 people are. These are the 25 people who are at the end of the day will make the final decisions.


  1. Be flexible

You are going to have a plan, but you know your plan is going to go out of the window very quickly.

You are going to be flexible and harness opportunities. You are going to have a budget and resources that allows you to move with events, to run an advertisement in the Financial Times for a College decision, a go to a meeting that comes up that was never expected.


  1. Work with the media

You are going to be a source of information to the media. You’ll be able to provide the latest and unique insight on developments that is clear and and makes sense to them. They will see you as the go to person for comment 24/7. And, you will answer their calls and emails when they call you. You will make the mundane or technical seem interesting and important.

The press will provide you with the oxygen of publicity and a vital means of telling your story.

  1. Make it simple

You will make the complex clear and technical understandable.  You will be able to chat with Commissioners, politicians, officials, and technical experts in the same meeting at their respective levels.

You do not think that confusion helps, and instead you will speak to the audience at just the level they need.  You’ll shut down colleagues who start talking gobbledygook.

You are not the one of the many who thinks bamboozling your audience is smart. You know it is not and instead just alienates the very people you need to win over.

Instead, you will use smart charts, visuals, stories, facts and figures, that clearly and simply outline your position.  Making things simple is not to make it simplistic, but enlightening, so your audience say “wow, now I have got it”.


  1. Make it appeal to them

You will make your issue important to them.

You can do this in many ways. A well- placed news item on the TV that a politician’s family and friends watch can work wonders. I have not found a politician who wants to be personally responsible for their extinction of a species by their friends and family.

You won’t pitch the issue direct to them and instead, when the opportunity arises, have a friend of the key decision maker do it for you. Chatting about the extinction of a species over a weekend between friends is going to have a lot more clout than a briefing for a civil servant.

You will use celebrities and royals here as they are very helpful. They move in circles that you are unlikely to. They can often make direct appeals to people very high in the political food chain.


  1. Work in the cloud

You are a nomad, have a hot-desk in your office, airport and at home. You are accessible, call forwarding works. You are not a bureaucrat. We live in the 21st century where slack, skype, google office, all allow you, with the help of a smart phone and good internet connection, to work wherever you need to be.

  1. Inform your donors

Your work is going to be funded by the generosity of your members and sometime philanthropists.

It’s easy to forget in the day to day work that you work for them. They are paying the bills.

You need to let them know where their money is going. Always take their call and answer their email. Be straight forward and 100% transparent what you need the money for. If you need funding $100,000 for a court case, give them the details they want to make a decision. You are the ally to the donors and not your fundraising department.

If you start faking it the generosity will dry up very quickly. If you are honest, and admit the chances of success are low, or even non-existent, but it is important to do, I have found that the money will flow, often from unexpected places.


  1. Go Go-Pro

If there were an audience, you would go-pro your day.

Your donors may like to know where their money is going, and it must be a lot better than billable hours.

Sometimes, go-pro can record the unsubtle threat you will get. Death threats are still too common to environmental campaigners.

  1. Stunts work

Stunts  and demonstrations work, but please use volunteers rather than actors.

Greenpeace know stunts work. The world listens.


  1. Play for the long-term

Change does not happen over-night.  Even when you get the laws you want in place, it does not mean that the new laws will be implemented and complied with.

You will have a long-term perspective. You know that even if you get the law on the statute book, you will need to change gear, and get the law implemented, and bring about the change you wanted.

Now, the hard work really starts. You can outsource this work, or take it up yourself, but you are not going to walk away and trust the system to deliver. You know if you do this, the chances of what you wanted ever happening are slim, and the changes you worked so hard for, turn to dust.


  1. Ignore vast waves of land

You are not foolish. You know that vast swathes of the political landscape are never going to support you. Certain countries and political groups are, and likely always will, oppose you.

You are going to focus your limited resources on getting a coalition together of votes that will get you want you want. Nothing more. You are not in the business of gaining converts and instead you are going to focus on making sure your supporters turn up and vote and get enough wavering supporters switching to you.

You will ignore the advice of your colleagues who beg you to spend scarce time and money on getting the support of a country or political group who are publically and privately against you. Going into the lion’s den to win allies is a fool’s dream. You may come out, but you are likely to be scared, often fatally.

There is an exception to this. When you are winning, you can go into the territory you had conceded. It worked for Stalin.

  1. Outsource

You will be smart, and when it is best to win, you will outsource.

Why would you use your own local organization when there is a stronger NGO in that country who is also working on the same issue, supporting you. Use them instead.


  1. One night stands work

Campaigns throw up the most unlikely mutual interests. Harness them.

Working with supportive industry allies is used a lot today. As long as does not dilute your message, use it.

The mutual interest may end the day after you both politically get what you want, but as long as it gets you want you want, it is worth trying it.


  1. Supply the back up

You are going to find political allies who want to help you. Sometimes, they are going to say that they want to help, but they do not have the time and staff to do all the work. Make it easy for them and give to them.

  1. Don’t sound bonkers

Re-watching the documentary, I am reminded that some NGOs can sound bonkers.

Faced between the prospect of overnight de-industrialization or a transition,  most politicians (and people) are going to back the transition.  Pitching that the only way to get to a given target is by embracing the economic planning of Pol Pot is bonkers.

You’ll be smart. You will show how the objective is possible, by using available technologies and is more profitable than today’s model.


  1. Have a few bibles

I have a few core well-thumbed books that I constantly come back to.  Mine are:

  • European Parliament, “Rules of Procedure”
  • European Commission, “Better Regulation Guidelines”
  • Gueguen & Marissen, “Handbook on EU secondary legislation”
  • Chris Rose, “What Makes People Tick” & “How to Win Campaigns”
  • Mailyn Political, “How To Run the European Parliament”


  1. Have the lawyers on standby

Law making brings ups important legal questions. It is helpful to have a good lawyer on call. You will use them to prepare the draft directive, provide quick legal briefing asked for by an ally, rebut a legal position raised by the other side, and sometimes respond to litigation threats.


  1. Take the call

The greatest opportunities come from picking up the phone.  You will get a huge amount by answering calls and making them.

Too many of your colleagues don’t like phones. They dislike the ideas of cold calling to find out what is happening on their issue. They dislike even more the very idea of answering an enquiry from a journalist.

I have got some of my biggest political breaks from the phone.

If people don’t like the phone, it is better they try a new career

  1. Avoid the internal meetings

There is a disease that afflicts too many NGOs. It is internal meetings.

You will avoid this navel gazing. You will focus on changing the outside world and delivering change.

You are not a management consultant preparing yet another new set of power-point. You are a political campaigner.


  1. Speed works

You will have the draft bill, studies, amendments, supporting evidence ahead of time.  You are going to ignore the prevarication and internal dialogue of your hierarchy.

A key lesson I took away from Brussels behind closed doors was that speed works. The major weak point of our opponents is they were slow and we were fast. We did our homework, a lot of it, and tabled everything ahead of time. We played by the rules and used our in-built voting strength to put through our package.

We had a big advantage. Our opponents did not know how to respond because they were working too slowly.

You will learn from this. You will be ahead of the curve. You will have your full package out on the day of the Commission’s proposal. You will obviously already have it. You will set the agenda



I have borrowed ideas liberally from others in my work in particular:

John. Kingdon, “Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies”

Andrew Rich, “Think Tanks, Public Policies and the Politics of Expertise”

Robert. B. Cialdini,  “Influence” & “Pre-suasion”



I have written the counter-point on what to do if you are targeted by a NGO campaign. I may publish it one day.

10 things to look for in a NGO if you want policy and legal change

I have been asked too many times what should a member of a NGO look for in that NGO if they want to bring about policy and legal changes.

I have taken the start of the summer vacation to write down 10 things I would look for.

I enjoy changing public policy and laws.  I have done this for more than 20 years in Brussels for most sides of the table. My remarks are directed to work in Brussels. They may apply elsewhere.

I have worked and advised NGOs on campaigns and lobbying. My success rate of getting what the campaign wanted is high.

I have also helped clients deal with NGO interest. Again, those clients have done well.

  1. Do what it says on the label

NGO members and donors need to know what is happening with their money.

Donors investing in a campaign can’t wake up and read that their money has been used elsewhere. NGOs have to have first rate financial systems in place.

If a NGO is focused on conservation field work why not stick to it. The further a NGO moves away from the original purpose, the more confused things will be.

Getting into policy and lobbying may be considered fun at the time. But, it is not something to be done flippantly. If you are in, it is a long-term investment – 10 years minimum – and if you can’t stick to that, it is best to keep out.

  1. Have a proposal that adds up

I have read, written and reviewed proposals that are excellent examples of gobbledygook.

Too often, an organisation will lay claim to change policy or laws in ways that really will only deliver if divine intervention happens.

It is better to be honest to yourself, your members and donors. Explain what you can do, be honest what you can’t do, and highlight the chances of success and failure.

A great curse is to claim to be able to do everything single handily within one organisation. It is usually, at best, self-deception. As with my all my attempts to persuade people that I am tall, dark and attractive, people (even the blind) quickly see through it.

Instead, be up front and honest. Suggest going into partnership with other organisation, or bringing on board other expertise as and when needed.

It is amazing that NGOs seem to ignore that the gig economy is prospering. You can bring on genuine experts in the field – lawyers, economists, web designer, media departments, scientists – all through the power of contact. It helps keep a NGO slim and focused, and it allows you to get some of the best expertise on board when you need it.


  1. Failure is okay

I am from the left. I have been brought up being happily surprised with victory. It’s not that usual.

I have learned a lot from failure. It has helped me improve and refine my campaign and lobbying model.

If a NGO claims it has never lost, they are faking it, or worked on things so easy it is not worth mentioning.

  1. We are living in the 21st Century 

Too many NGOs want to emulate early 1970s oil firms. Big offices in prime locations. It is like technology has not entered into their lives.

Slack, Fiscal note, skype all allow the campaign to be run and won with little infrastructure, except a good 4G connection, Wi-Fi, and trust in the team.

Personally, I’d have no issue with a demand to wear a go-pro whilst working. I just hope people don’t mind the swearing.

  1. Campaign

Here I get into dangerous territory. I believe in political campaigns. I think they work. In fact, I know they work. They can move mountains. They have forced through amazing changes. They continue to do so.

But, too many NGOs now pretend to be management consultants, producing McKinsey reports that hardly any one reads. If they not doing that, they are instead being change management gurus to companies to support them.

I think trying to have so many skill sets in one organisation is at best tough, and in all likelihood impossible.

Management consultants and change management gurus can all be contracted in. NGOs should focus and do what they do well.

I think it makes sense for NGOs to partner with firms on particular issues. It works well if they have a common goal. If the joint advocacy comes at the expense of a serious weakening of positioning, it is best to walk away. You’ll not sound genuine in meetings and the truth will come out.

The really sad thing is that many NGO leaders don’t even believe in campaigns, let alone political campaigns. There is a selective amnesia of the great progress since the 1970s that has all been brought by the actions of, often, a small group of men and women taking on daunting odds, overcoming unsurmountable vested political interests, and winning.

  1. 80/20 Principle

There is an easy way for a donor to know if they are investing in the right organisation. Just ask the leadership of the organisation how many hours they worked last week and how much of that time they spent in internal meetings.

Lobbyists and campaigners need to be spend around 80% of their time out of the office. They need to be focused on devising winning strategies and getting the project funded properly. After that, they need to spend most of their time on focused campaign implementation.

Too many NGOs spend too much time in inner dialogue – or belly button gazing as I prefer to call it – and this all comes at the expense of campaigning and winning.

If you find such an organisation that ignores the 80/20 principle, walk away.


  1. Take advantage of events or create the events

Unless you have the gift to look forward in time, events never go the way you wrote them down in your plan. It is vital to be flexible.

For me, the two most useful things I learned are:

  1. Have a draft Bill in the filing cabinet
  2. Have a briefing in the filing cabinet and supporting studies

I have experienced many cases when the first time around raising the issue, politicians and regulators were not interested in the issue. But, after an accident or press coverage (FT and Sunday Times work wonders) , the phone rings  off the hook, with request for meetings.  I have found new funding, policy changes and laws being tabled and adopted coming soon after.

None of this would have happened, if I had stuck doggedly to then plan or not had the draft bill, briefing and supporting studies filed away, ready to be handed over to a now enthusiastic politician.


  1. Gobbledygook does not work

Too many NGOs (and policy experts in general) have taken up a language that only a small group of men and women understand.

Gobbledygook just does not work. I have worked for many years on fisheries. Too many NGO campaigners can easily spend hours on end talking about MSY. The discussions becoming quite excited and emotional.

Sadly, I have not yet met a senior politician (except one) who understood a word they were saying. In fact, the g look of horror at the very mention of the acronym was the usual a natural fight or flight response.

If your campaigner and lobbyist rejects the idea of using plain English, fire them.

I think it is useful to make sure what you a putting forward adds up and is scientifically sound. Indeed, I think it is good idea to have genuine scientific experts on hand to advise.

There are a few scientists I have met who can  explain their issue in a clear and precise way, and even respond to questions in the same way. They are a rare breed. Most cannot. It is for that reason, I think scientific experts have a limited role in lobbying and campaigning. Vital for developing the objectives, but thereafter, best left alone.

  1. Religious zealots need not apply

Too many campaigners, for NGOs and industry, are in the business of religious conversion. But, they are in the wrong business. Lobbying is the business of persuasion.

I go for the agnostic vote. I realise that most normal politicians and regulators are unlikely to care too much about fish stocks in the North Sea. But, stealing a trick form Chris Rose and Value Communication, I know there is a way to make the key politicians and regulators to accept, if only for a very short period of time leading up to and just after the vote, that the position being put forward is the right one to back.

  1. Changing laws and policy is not complex

In the EU, there are about 50 key procedures for adopting policies and laws. On any given issue, there are about 250 key individuals, and at the end of the day, it is around 20.

If you know them (and too few people do) and can persuasively put your case forward at the right time, with the right information,  that speaks to your audience, you are doing well.

Laws and policies follow, in the main an established procedure. I’d recommend following it. If you turn up too late in the day, your  issue is likely going to be ignored, however important it is.

Personally, when at the stage of writing laws, I think it is a smart thing to use real lawyers. They will save you a lot of pain in the future.










Observations on the neonicotinoids challenge

Observations on the neonicotinoids implementing act challenge

 On 7th April 2017, Julie Girdling (UK/ECR) submitted three objections to restrictions on 3 neonicotinoid pesticides: active substance coinciding; imidacloprid; ethiamethoxam.

Neonicotinoids  are a group of pesticides that mimic nicotine.  They have been subject to EU restrictions because questions of impacting bees.

The grounds put forward to objecting to the 3 draft implementing acts were that the Commission had exceeded the implementing powers provided for in the basic act.  Please go the bottom of the post for the 3 objections.

As is normal, after a discussion in the Environment Committee on 21 June, the Committee voted the next day.

On 22 June, the European Parliament rejected the move.

The amendments were defeated. 8 MEPs backed the challenged and 43 voted against.

As there is no automatic roll call vote, it is not possible to identify how individual MEPs voted.

I understand it was supported by some ECR MEPs and some classical liberals in the ALDE Group.




  • The trend for motions being put forward by a single group being defeated continues.
  • The focus of challenges to be directed towards sensitive issues – pesticides, GMOs, baby food – continues.
  • Anything that does not have broad cross party support, in particular from the Social Democrats, is unlikely to succeed.
  • At times, it seems like a theoretical possibility that the EP will support a challenge against a restriction on some substances.
  • As with delegated legislation in general, and implementing acts in particular, the key stage to influence the outcome is to influence the Commission’s proposal. Whatever the Commission is, in all likelihood, going to be adopted.