COM consultations a pivotal sphere of interaction

The COM depends to an important extend on outside expert knowledge to draft policy proposals. That is, interests have to be consulted prior and during the process of developing a policy. One of the main reasons are the COM’s limited resources in comparison to its responsibility for the internal market and the often highly specialized and technical policy fields it is has to deal with. Although the there are recruitment schemes where experts work within the COM on a temporary basis, specialized expertise is generally a scarce resource with in the COM.
Therefore the COM has to make contact with outside experts and interest groups in order to assess the empirical realties (= the different perceptions ) of the societal problem at hand. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as genuine research approaches, information requests, or informal/personal contacts. However the more concrete a policy proposal gets the more relevant is the process of communication with stakeholders. The interaction between both sides becomes most visible if a public consultation is launched and stakeholders are called upon to respond to questions/statements in a consultation document.
A directory of ongoing and closed consultations can be found on the following webpage:

Your Voice in Europe - Home - Consultations


company interests and discursive policy making

In an interview with a Brussels-based representative of a leading energy company, we discussed several important aspects of the communication process that links private interests and the COM.

In general he stressed the importance of Eurogroups that is European industry associations that are in direct contact with EU institutions. Those organisations function as communication platform on which a wide range of relevant contacts are cultivated and maintained. Eurogroups have multilingual staffs that make contacts especially to MEPs easier to develop; long standing experiences are also an important asset.
With respect to the specific policy area, where his company has vested interests, a cooperative working relationship has been established. Industry organises informal working groups to which policy officers from the COM are invited. The working groups serve as informal discussion forums where ideas can be discussed freely and opinions openly expressed. Invitations are personalized, no substitutes are allowed which makes the working group a trust based informal working relationships.
Since such relationships depend on personal contacts, it is important to nurture the relationship with COM officials, which includes the continuation of contacts even if an official is transferred to another post. In order to get the most out of the working group meetings it is also important be aware of the developments in the COM. Thus, one needs a network of personal contacts the build-up of which takes at least 12 months.
However, because those working groups are a permanent institution, there are no official COM publications that contain surprises for stakeholders. Policy proposals and political initiatives are effectively developed in dialogue between both sides. The subject of the cooperation is the “factual core” of a given policy.
In the light of our inquiry, this constitutes evidence that the development of a common understanding of a societal problem is an essential aspect of the process ob interest intermediation in the EU.
Another important hint toward the nature of this process can be drawn from his assertion that there are policy trends that need to be taken into account if the particular interests are to be advances in those communicative networks of actors. He mentioned the concept of “security of energy supplies” as a recent case in the point that constitutes a new frame under which particular interests have to be redefined and communicated. Such a redefinition of company interests can even reflect back into the company and raise the awareness for new possible business opportunities.
Hence, under the theoretical lens, the question arises how a companies particular interests are defined vis-à-vis the policy making process in the EU.


black box and source of information

For stakeholders the COM represents both a black box and a vital source of information. For representatives in Brussels the knowledge what the COM plans is a basic resource and since, especially with respect to future activities, it resembles a black box, some kind of an early alert is important to reduce the structural uncertainty of this situation.
Early alerts can be retrieved through personal contact and working relationships with officials. Because the question of how those contacts can be established is the subject of another post, we can here ask: What is the value of such an early alert?
First of all, retrieved from a personal contact the alert equals preliminary information on the internal policy agenda in the COM. The reliability of such information depends on the quality of the personal contact. Assuming that it is sufficiently reliable, the fact that it is early gives an actor a competitive edge to form an opinion and to develop a position toward a policy proposal. This value diminishes if the preliminary information is widely circulated among actors who are affected by the proposal. Early alert information is therefore not regularly shared among actors.
It is also important to note, that generally an existing interest in the subject is an perquisite for a early alert. Either an actor knows what to ask for or – more likely – a commission official know what a contact is interested in and offers information “that might be of interest to you”. Which then leads to the question, what benefits are in for an officials that distributes information?