personal contacts

A long time representative in Brussels confirmed the theoretical deduction that personal contacts are the most important basis for interest representation and the acquisition of information.
Contacts are based on previous working relationships or social factors such as nationality, language, job, etc. When talking to COM officials, detailed questions that leave the impression of being well informed are a key to precise information as well as further background information. Previous knowledge serves as an admission ticket. Equally important is a justified reason for a specific question, what is the information for?
If both conditions are observed, COM officials are usually willing to provide information. Not at least, because the COM has an interest in being perceived as a cooperative partner.
It is also important to cultivate connections and personal contacts. In relations between administrations, it is often the case that contacts made in a political meeting between high level officials can be developed into fruitful working relationships between administrators, which can be useful later on.
In general, the job of a Brussels representative resembles that of an translator between different organisational cultures and interest. It is his job to see the big picture which shows overlapping areas between the two.

Another representative confirmed those appreciations and added that one needs at least six month to build up the necessary contacts if specialized in one or two policy areas. The quality of a working relationship with COM officials depends on the duration, the longer the contact the better the results. Each long term working relationship needs also a personal level.
Apart from basic interpersonal factors, institutional factors also have an influence on the quality of information retrievable through personal contacts. A gauging factor in the eyes of the COM is ones institutional capabilities to influence the policy process. It makes a difference if an actor represents an administration from the member states or private interests. But the difference is not clear cut black or white, that is to say a MS administration can also be an obstacle for COM plans and therefore be not necessarily privileged over other interests. Especially consultants often enjoy a good supply of privileged information because they are seen as being more flexible and only indirectly representing vested interests.


personal contacts & NGOs

To get information early enough to be able to react or develop a position is an essential task for people representing NGOs that work for more communal/diverse interests such as the environment, human rights, and consumer interests.
With regard to the COM, personal contacts on the working level are the primary source of information. In addition to general features of those contacts, the communication channel is also of importance. Most effective are acroamatic requests in comparison to written requests via e-mail or letter. The reason is traceability of information leaks, which is to say: if one represents common interest with which COM officials privately sympathize, more information are available, but not in a traceable format. Another option is to “ask” the COM via other more sympathetic actors in the political system, such as MEPs.
Another difference is the general sympathy for such common interests in respective DG’s, appreciation differs according to the policy area. Because common concerns are rather cross cutting in nature, it is often the case that actors deal with the same contact person in a variety of cases, which increases the probability to achieve a working relationship even if on the face of it that would not be very likely. But if a DG is sympathetic, officials provide early information and hints in order to be able to rely on well timed consumer or environmentalist statements/positions.
In general many actors benefit from regular conversations and run circles where a exchange of views is possible between actors from different sides of the opinion spectrum, such as industry associations and consumer organisations.