The Corona Crisis strongly affects the dynamics of euro-Brussels. Changing the way the European institutions operate involves adapting the procedures for interacting with sectoral policy makers. The emergency of this "black swan" upsets the entire legislative dynamic and the way to discuss the best laws for European citizens.
Last year, with my book Mapping the Influencers in the EU Policies, I tried to describe how the world of European affairs would change over the next decade. Through this article I will analyze the impact of the current crisis on those premonitions.
1. We live in changing times – factors such as world politics, climate change, aging and increasing populations, urbanisation, and a myriad of other challenges will continue to influence EU affairs.
The pandemic crisis surprises the whole of European society, redefining legislative priorities. Health policy is becoming the topic of the day, and has a wide impact on other sectoral policies. The recovery of the economy is the most discussed topic now, and a connection of legislative priorities from an economic point of view is a necessity.
2. The market for “EU Affairs” has become more holistic over the past few years, and will continue to develop as Government Affairs, Public Affairs, Public Relations, Communications, Legal and other roles, co-mingle and integrate under the “EU Affairs” banner.
In general, the private sector has been severely affected by the crisis, and institutions have viewed some industrial segments with more sympathy and tolerance. Finding the common adversary in “economic recovery″, business-institutional cooperation was much better synchronized.
3. Brussels has become more and more transparent leading to the disintermediation of the Brussels policy sphere. The public is now more aware and more involved in EU affairs. The number of actors in Brussels has grown considerably – whether from industry, NGOs or other sectors. As a result the effort required to make one’s voice heard has increased considerably. The EU Affairs market will become even bigger. A surprisingly large number of companies still do not have a presence in EU Brussels. I anticipate an increasing role and impact of civil society in EU decision processes. I also see more attention being paid to transparency in the policy-making process.
The space for debates has moved online, and policy makers have been very visible, perhaps even more present than before. However, the virtual environment does not offer the same transparency, being often just a smokescreen that covers a very fast decision-making process in some cases, adapted to the crisis situation. Yes, there was more information, but less communication. The market will adapt, and the appetite for online communication to EU institutions stimulates some entities to consolidate their physical presence in Brussels.
4. Influence in Brussels remains largely based on good and mutually beneficial working relationships between officials and the stakeholders with whom they interact. Let’s not forget, an influencer is a true believer and promoter of European values and principles.
Now more than ever, the role of opinion leaders has been highlighted by the newly created situation. Benefiting from a previously acquired notoriety, the experts reinvented themselves, using debate platforms as their favorite medium in transmitting impactful messages.
5. Demand for EU affairs skills and experience is high, while supply is remains relatively limited, despite the fact that the Brussels bubble has grown in terms of number of people employed over there the last twenty years.
European Brussels is affected by the crisis, and many experts, especially young people, have become technically unemployed or might have even lost their jobs. The contracting of the consultancies market was obvious, but Brussels will reinvent itself and adapt. The job of ″expert in European affairs″ has a future, but the absorption of new skills (especially soft ones) is necessary in order to have a chance of success.
6. Today, with multiple communications tools and social media possibilities, we are kept informed even if we don’t necessarily want to be. But the gap between the political discourse in EU member state capitals and Brussels remains wider than 10 years ago. Brexit represents the apogee of euroscepticism, but it has also highlighted the benefits of membership and closer union. The EU will likely extend into more member states (namely the Western Balkan countries), and new actors with differing cultures and societies will enter the many Brussels bubbles.
The virtual environment has made the distance between Brussels and other European capitals shrink, it has become tiny. Those who organized conferences in Brussels had two enormous opportunities: to have ministers from the governments of the member countries as panelists, but also to open ″Brussels conferences” to the general public. Brussels is now much less a "bubble", it has become a transmitter of signals, messages that reach European capitals much better.
7. The EU affairs market will need to become more accountable, more transparent and better align with good governance principles if we wish to make this a Europe of people, rather than of markets and profits. Sentiment is increasingly a factor of decision making and, all things being equal will increasingly influence and impact EU Affairs in the years to come. I hope that, in ten years’ time, decision making will retain a scientific basis.
Activities in Brussels become much more visible due to the favoring of the online environment in their daily activity. This overexposure implies a greater accountability of decision makers towards transparency.
8. The “EU affairs” market will increasingly digitise, but human contact will retain a vital role. I believe that AI (artificial intelligence, not artificial influence) will start to impact decisions and outcomes: while people will continue to prevail in terms of human interaction and clear results, the preparation and roll-out of advocacy will increasingly be facilitated by “robotics”.
The last few months confirm this tendency to interact virtually. The question is: what will the European affairs market look like in 6-12 months, what is the new normal?
9. In 2030, Generation X (the current high schoolers) will be omnipresent in Brussels. These are technological natives, virtual interactors, and less committed to permanence in careers. These factors will greatly shape the future of the EU affairs market.
Certainly, young practitioners will have a great opportunity to assert themselves, upsetting hierarchies. However, personal networking, built over time, is still a strong element of European affairs.
Dan LUCA / Brussels