Whether you are an MEP or a public affairs practitioner, after a while in the Brussels Bubble, there is a tendency to go native. Arcane, albeit clearly interesting, discussions about the boiling point of paint, the details of inter-institutional agreements or the latest spat between Commission services can take over from what real people (i.e. not us) care about.
Thankfully, elections are the pin-prick that our bubble occasionally requires. And while there are those who lament a lack of turnover in certain national delegations, we think it’s worthwhile considering what the upcoming elections in 2009 could mean for public affairs tactics in Brussels and how digital may help us be better advocates in the next year or two.
Firstly, there is of course the need to take into account in your current outreach that there may be members of the European Parliament or Commission that don’t intend to return come late 2009. If your issue is not likely to see its conclusion until post-elections, do you wish to spend your limited resources on people that won’t be around when the decision is taken?
Secondly, the elections are likely to see MEPs thinking more and more of their home base, as they worry about their own jobs as much as those of their constituents. This will not only shape their behavior here in Brussels (especially vis-a-vis their national confrères) but increase the likelihood that they spend their weekends gallivanting around god-forsaken parts of their home region.
As such, PA practitioners would be advised to think about recalibrating their own activities to take this into account. We’ve come up with what we may call PA’s triple bottom line for making your arguments have an impact:
- Principles – you should act in this way because it supports your stated political principles
- Policy – you should act in this way because it will get you to your stated policy objective
- People – you should act in this way because it will benefit the people that matter to you (your party, the people who select you or of course the people who elect you)
All successful arguments in Brussels tend to hit a sweet point somewhere between the three. But perhaps in an election year, the X on the map moves a little more toward the third?
So where does digital fit into all this? Well, how about Google Maps. Ok, it’s been around a while. But it could be a useful little tool to help us visualise the local connections of Brussels based actors with MEPs. We’ve started to use it to give a visualisation (pictures always speak louder than Excel sheets) of those members, on the right committees with the right interests, who could be supportive not only because they happen to come from the right country but also the right region or town for a particular industry or company. Sometimes one forgets that industry has a local impact on local communities as well. Even MEPs come from somewhere and it’s surprising how often they come from somewhere near you.
It’s amazing what a simple tool such as this can do. Once you get down to this level of granularity, you can start thinking about targeted communications at a local level in support of your Brussels advocacy. How about getting that MEP to meet your workers (read voters), helping to get him some local media coverage in the run up to the elections, motivating local influencers to express an opinion or indeed getting a few hundred people from where he lives to write him letters.
As MEPs’ attentions return home, so should ours. Digital can help us think about it.