LOBBYING: Good facts and arguments win the debate

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 * Expert says most politicians seek informed decisions *

A senior lobbyist says that contrary to public and media misconceptions, good facts and arguments is what wins the debate at the end of the day, rather than costly lobby campaigns.


Karl Isaksson, Chairman of the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association told the Financial Mirror in an interview that although it may sound naïve, he has great faith in the majority of politicians, especially in Brussels, who try to listen to all perspectives before taking any decision.
Fortunately, Isaksson is not fully aware of the situation in Cyprus and the standard of political ethos among those in public office.
But that is what will be discussed during Thursday’s seminar on “Lifting the Lid on Lobbying” hosted by Transparency International-Cyprus at the Classic Hotel in Nicosia.
The event itself is very well times and in its invitation said that “in a country where favouritism, bribery and nepotism thrive, the risks of unregulated and opaque lobbying are indeed alarming and cannot be ignored, which is why lobbying practices must come out of the shadows and be regulated.”
Differentiating the profession of a lobbyist from that of a “spin doctor” or public relations officer aimed at promoting a client’s needs, Isaksson said that no lobbyist tries to hide the fact that they work for certain interests.
“Consultants work for their clients, and people employed in companies of NGOs work for their employers. I think the question needs to be addressed from a different perspective – it is positive that those affected by policy and legislation have the ability to speak to decision makers about the consequences of the decisions.
“My experience is that most politicians are capable of listening to a number of arguments from different interests with different perspectives and then make a better informed decision in the end,” he said.
Isaksson also explained that the media narrative is very often about the clash between business on the one hand and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the other.
“In most cases you find business interests competing on both sides of an argument. It is true that ‘big business’ have more resources to spend on lobby activities, but I would argue that those interests are not by definition against a ‘common interest’. I would also argue that in Brussels, good facts and arguments is what wins the debate, rather than costly lobby campaigns.”
Who, then, defends the ‘small groups’ such as low-budget nations involved in conflict with their rich neighbours, eco-groups, ordinary farmers, labour groups or even those involved with the protection of vulnerable groups?
“I am not sure I agree that there is a conflict between ‘big business’ and ‘small groups’ when it comes to legislation. But I will not deny that businesses have better financial resources to participate in the public discussions,” Isaksson said.
“However, quite often the NGOs who speak for the ‘small groups’ have great access to the decision makers. Again, massive resources is not the key to winning the debate. I think the best way to increase the possibility for more stakeholders to engage is to increase transparency. I am very much in favour of the EU Transparency Register but even more important is that the political process is transparent.”
As regards the images of lobbying in the U.S. taken to a completely different level, with pressure on Washington and Capitol Hill by interest groups such as gun manufacturers, oil companies and foreign nations, Isaksson said that it is difficult to compare practices in the EU and in the US (and for that matter between different countries in the EU) since there are very different political cultures.
“But for the sake of argument, given that you imply that the interests you mention are negative ones, I think that increased transparency is a great thing which possibly can counter arguments from certain stakeholders.”
As regards some practical advice for Cyprus, which is relatively new to ‘transparency’ issues, Isaksson explained that although not too familiar with Cyprus politics to give any advice, “I want to make very clear that lobbying and corruption are two very different issues.”
“Lobbying for me is basically that those affected by political decisions have a chance to make their case in front of the decision makers. I have no defense for corrupted politicians or stakeholders who try to win their case by bribery,” he concluded.
Other speakers during the conference include Dr. Maria Krambia-Kapardis, Lifting the Lid Project Coordinator for Cyprus who will be giving the welcome address, Helen Turek of the Lifting the Lid Project Coordinator for Transparency International who will be elaborating on lobbying in the EU, followed by George Demetriou from the Services Sector of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KEVE), Thomas Kazakos, Director General of the Cyprus Shipping Chamber and Dr. Michalis Neoptolemou, Assistant Managing Director of pharmaceutical company Remedica Ltd. who will chair the panel discussion on “Regulatory Framework”.