With countless new initiatives and action plans up its sleeve, the European Commission made sure the coming months and years will be full of legislative proposals to keep the Brussels crowd busy. One key player will therefore be the Council of Member States thanks to its co-legislator status. But if you’re familiar with the institution and its structure, you know full well that those pulling the strings behind the scenes are each Member States’ Permanent Representation and the rotating Presidency – which is from today on Germany!
Based on our experience with these two Council formations, here is our little guide to help you build your influencing strategy and facilitate your interactions with them… You’re welcome!
1. Time to overcome your phone phobia.
With only a handful of Council documents made publicly available (hello transparency!), monitoring progress on any given file can get tricky… An up-to-date address book and working phone are your best allies to fish for the latest info!
2. What’s on today’s agenda?
That’s question #1 that you and your phone must ascertain. To influence, you need to know when the window of opportunity is, aka the timeline of the legislative file in the Council. When is your file on X working party’s agenda? And if it is on the agenda, will specific provisions A, B, C be discussed? Etc.
3. Keeping up with the rotating Presidencies.
You’ve found a great ally in the *insert nationality* attaché. Good job, but is this attaché’s country next in line to preside the Council? If so, it is likely that this person will slowly get off the radar as the handover draws near. Not only does the increased workload leave little time for informal chit-chat, but the Presidency cap comes with a temporary duty of neutrality.
4. What’s in there for us?
It might not be said out loud, but 99% chances are this is what is going on in the attaché’s mind while you’re exposing your arguments. Keep in mind that Member States will be the ones implementing the legislation, potentially facing infringement procedures – try to bring realistic solutions that will speak both to their pragmatic minds and national interests.
5. Keeping up with the Presidencies – the sequel.
The Presidency has the power to decide arbitrarily on the tempo of legislative files. Be ready (to draw your phone again!) to see your file either go down the speed lane or gather dust in a dark corner of the Egg every six months – solid drama potential!
6. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Keep in mind that in spite of being the other co-legislator, rules to amend legislative proposals are slightly more challenging in the Council than in the Parliament. A bon entendeur…
7. Birds of a feather flock together.
Don’t underestimate the informal alliances that exist between Member States and are at the core of the institution’s power dynamics. Tap into them to facilitate your work – especially since “consensus” is not an empty word here.
8. Don’t shoot the messenger.
When attachés defend their Member State’s position during meetings, they often impersonate the Brussels mouth of their faraway capital. Although some small Member States’ attachés might have more leeway than one would expect, don’t hesitate to plan a European tour of the most influential national experts to get your message across.
9. Be prepared.
Just as scouts, this is your new motto. Attachés do mean business during meetings with stakeholders: expect an hour-long discussion with a fair share of technical questions. Bring either a detailed argumentation for support or even better, your own client or in-house expert!
10. So long, navigating apps!
Pre-pandemic these babies (and comfortable shoes) would have been critical for you not to get lost while running between all 27 locations. These days all you need is your laptop, a Wi-Fi connection and a good video-conference tool to chat with your favourite attaché as most work is done remotely anyways. Maybe out of (direct) sight but clearly not out of mind!