There are no hard and fast rules to getting your organisations opinion heard. Europe is a big place, the arrangements between the Institutions are complex and there are differing centres of influence. One of the misconceptions unfortunately held by some is that you need to hire an expensive team of lobbyists to make yourself heard. This is untrue. The European Union's institutions are incredibly receptive organisations and with time, the right information and a good strategy you can ensure that your NGO has a say.
The following tips are designed to get you started. From the start you need to get organised and have a plan.
- Find out a little about your area of interest and see what powers the European Union has in it.
- Find out if the EU has a competence in the area.
- Find out how the EU actually works. This site will help but you may need more information?
- Who are the main decision makers in the European Institutions
- Can anybody help you in Brussels?
- Is there any new legislation or policy planned in the area?
- Try to find out if there are any umbrella groups that represent NGOs in Ireland. The Civil Society Contact Group, who represent 432 different groups may be a (http://www.act4europe.org) maybe a good place to start. If there is somebody ready to work with you in the European Union.
- Try to talk to your Member of the European Parliament? They are your representatives in Europe and can guide you through the system that they work in every day.
- Government Departments, local authorities, might also be able to help. They at the end of the day implement EU policy and can explain exactly what proposals are being proposed.
- Try more than one route. Don't just try one approach and if it does not work give up. Try several. Maybe try more than one institution or way of working with an institution.
- Learn from your experiences. Even if you did not manage to bring about the change you wanted, the next time you try you might be more successful.
- Keep asking for advice. Speak to the experts. Most organisations and people you deal with will try and be helpful. Three places to start are the:
- European Parliament office in Ireland http://www.europarl.ie/
- European Commission Office in Ireland http://www.euireland.ie
- Department of Foreign Affairs http://www.dfa.ie
- The spirit in the European Union is very much about consensus building between parties in the parliament, institutions and national governments. As a small NGO you need to be adaptable and win friends. You also should try to get to know groups or people that don't hold the same views as yourself.
- Change is easier at the start of the legislative process. If you have your say on an issue when it is being suggested in its earliest stages by the European Commission or by and MEP you will have more chance of success.
- Map out your objectives clearly. What do you want to achieve in the short, medium and long-term and how are you going to get there.
- Put together a position paper on why you stand on a particular issue. That way you have clearly expressed in ink your views and why they are important. This makes it easier for people to evaluate your message instantaneously and refer back to your position at a later date.
- Don’t forget the power of civil society. The more people you are seen to represent the better. In addition the media can be an important ally. If an issue is in public debate, on TV or in the papers it will help form policy. There are also think tanks that influence policy in Europe - some of them can be found here.
- Don't be afraid to arrange a personal meeting. Flying out to Brussels is much cheaper than it used to be. Spending a day or two physically meeting people and finding out their views is a good investment.
- Decide how you are going to be represented in the European Institutions. Organisations that lobby differ in size from 150 full time staff to being represented by a professional organisation to individuals who dedicate a day or two a month. Decide what you can do.
- Get involved in stakeholder events, conferences, both at a national and EU level. You may be able to participate and you are sure to meet many people who are key to policy.
This website will help you find some of the options that exist. This is not exhaustive. Your strategy will very much depend on the time you have, your resources and your knowledge of the systems. After reviewing some of these options you will have to dig a little deeper on and offline.