Associations need to start preparing now for 2019, a year of change at the heart of the EU

7th May, 2018

The countdown to the European Parliament elections in May 2019 is a good time for associations to take stock and audit their advocacy approach before a new wave of MEPs and Commissioners set the policy agenda for 2020 and beyond.

Richard Steel2019 will not only see a reshuffle of key Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), an institution growing in status and legislative power, but also a new European Commission, under a new President and with a new 5-year programme that will influence every sector and business. In 2014, the newly elected Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, promised to change the culture in Brussels from a legislative sausage-machine, churning out an average of over 120 proposals a year, to a more targeted body that promised to be “big on the big things and small on the small things”. Brussels was tired of being bashed for “interfering” in issues that people increasing felt were none of its business. So Juncker set out 10 key priorities on which his 5-year term should be judged, focusing on areas where Brussels could bring added value, for example in building a real internal market in energy or digital technology.

How Can Associations Prepare for the Bumpy Road Ahead

So what lies ahead for the next 5 years and how can you ensure that your association is not only ready to adapt to the new regime but influence its shape? Now is the time to be having those discussions about how to present yourself to a whole new set of players, with an anticipated 50% turnover of MEPs. How can you get a foot in the door early to explain what you do, why you’re relevant to policy makers and perhaps most importantly what you can do to help meet their new political agenda?

While starting those internal discussions now is timely, it’s too early to forecast what shape those new EU institutions will take in the summer of 2019. The European elections in 2014 already saw a worrying rise in nationalist and populist parties, with forces hostile to the direction the EU was taking representing about one-third of the seats. Recent election results across Europe suggest that this percentage could grow even higher. A far-right party is now in coalition in Austria and could even lead the government in Italy. One of Brussels most ardent critics, Victor Orban in Hungary, has just seen his majority grow, and his tough stance on immigration looks likely to be played out again and again in the May 2019 elections.

All of this could lead to a European Parliament struggling to find a workable majority and a future work programme that a pro-European majority can work behind. Associations, like other stakeholders, will have to work out which MEPs it can do business with and which ones it daren’t risk being associated with. European associations may have to work far more closely with their national counterparts in those countries where large numbers of MEPs are elected on an anti-Brussels ticket if they hope to get their message across. The coherence of the European Commission could also be jeopardised if several of its new Members hail from nationalist parties that refuse to accept the collegiate nature of the Commission’s decision-making. Creative thinking and an ability to adapt rapidly to the changing situation are going to be essential for any association wanting to be heard above the noise.

Brexit is Officially Upon Us

Two other events in 2019 will further complicate this rapidly changing scene and will need to be addressed. The UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019 and European associations will need to be in a position to adapt to the new circumstances. Decisions will need to be taken on how to work with British counterparts. The agreement on a transition period where EU rules will still apply in the UK until the end of 2020 will allow more time to adjust but European associations will have to get used to dealing with the UK as a third country.

One of the most immediate consequences of Brexit will be the 13-14% drop in the EU budget and 2019 will also mark a critical time in the adoption of a new long term budget post-2020. Associations that have benefited from EU funding will need to pay particular attention to where the cuts come and try and ensure that their activities remain part of the more limited priority areas where funding will be focused. Priority areas are likely to include security, defence, migration, border control and macro-economic stability.

Advancing Your Interests

At Interel we are busy helping clients prepare for these changes and advancing their interests by encouraging them to review their advocacy strategy, channels of communication, tools and approaches. It’s good to get an external perspective on whether you’re getting your message across in the most effective way and helping to pose the difficult questions.

  • Are there new tools like eAdvocacy that you should be using?

  • Have you got the necessary monitoring tools?

  • Do you have the right people in place?

  • Do you fully understand your members’ needs?

  • Are you collaborating effectively with their experts to ensure you are aligned in your approach?

Whether you’re a trade association or professional society, now is the time to be building coalitions to advance your mission, address issues and look beyond similar associations to consider NGOs or industry partners. Your impact, access and know-how could multiply by teaming up with a multitude of partners. While focus is on the Parliament and Commission, associations should leverage their members to convey key messages to national governments and other EU bodies relevant to their mission, such as the Committee of the Regions.

Now is the time to prepare because you can be sure that everybody else is.

This article is authored by Richard Steel, Senior Associate, Interel

Interel is the world’s largest independent global public affairs and association management consultancy. Interel’s award-winning association management division is AMCI accredited and offers a full suite of services and deep expertise to over international 100 clients across multiple sectors. Coupled with its public affairs practice, Interel serves over 250 multi-national corporations, associations, professional societies, and governments around the world.

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