Brussels, 31 March 2014 – The first prize of the fourth EPACA ESSAY CONTEST 2014 was handed over by Lisette Tiddens-Engwirda and Alain Perroy, members of the EPACA Professional Practices Panel to Alessia Mortara from FleishmanHillard during EPACA’s Annual General Meeting, 28 March 2014.

The EPACA 2014 Contest, with the topic“Transition year: EU challenges and the professional Public Affairs consultant”, aimed to highlight the Public Affairs profession and bring recognition to young practitioners. Young talents under the age of 30 and working for consultancies member of EPACA were invited to take part in shaping our profession by sharing their views and experiences in an essay competition.

The Jury was the members of our Professional Practices Panel. Alessia Mortara was unanimously designated by our Jury as the winner. Her essay showed both talent and originality.

Runners up in the contest were Mihaela Gruia, from FleishmanHillard, ranking second, and Nuno Loureiro and Daniel Smith from Interel ranking third. We congratulate them for the excellent quality of their essays.

First prize essay of Alessia Mortara from FleishmanHillard

“Transition year: EU challenges and the professional Public Affairs consultant.” In this year of transition, consultants will be anxious to ensure that clients feel confident and serene about the consequences of political change in the European Union. However, as public affairs professionals, they could also be important stakeholders in helping the institutions face the challenges ahead.

For European officials, three key concerns loom clearly into focus; increasing apathy towards the EU (including low turnouts at the 2014 elections), the disquieting rise of Eurosceptic movements and the necessity to preserve efficiency and maintain cohesion under a new parliamentary formation. Public affairs professionals can help ease these concerns.

First of all, consultancies can build confidence in the European institutions by confirming and publicizing their commitment to transparency. Showcasing the democratic openness and legitimacy of the EU regulatory process will help Parliament harness the trust of voters who are increasingly disillusioned with their national representations.

Secondly, while political orientations will not shift overnight, Public Affairs professionals can help curb the threat of rising Eurosceptic movements and burgeoning opposition by offering concrete and constructive contributions to regulatory proposals. Assisting the Commission in devising a policy agenda which is in touch with the economic realities of the EU will trigger growth and drive prosperity, thereby eliminating poverty and unemployment, which are the breeding ground for anti-European sentiment.

Finally, should the Parliament become increasingly factional after the election in May, consultants will have an important role to play in curtailing political confrontation and legislative stagnation. By redressing the political debate towards principles of economic growth and competitiveness, they could help MEPs preserve cohesion, maintain credibility and continue the process of integration.

Overall, this year of transition is an opportunity for Public Affairs consultants to prove their value in an increasingly unstable political environment, as part of the open and democratic process of representation.

Second prize essay of Mihaela Gruia from FleishmanHillard

“Transition year: EU challenges and the professional Public Affairs consultant.” With trumpets and fanfare, 2014 will set the political stage for new interactions between key actors on the European scene. However, the performers will find it challenging to please a disproving audience: the European electorate has paid tickets for a show that is not living up to their expectations. Stemming from the on-going Eurozone Crisis and the perception of poor policy-making, approval ratings show MEPs at an all-time low of 19%, while almost 80% of Europeans believe industry and public affairs professionals have too much influence on policy and do not always act in the public interest. So what are the challenges in this climate of distrust for public affairs consultants? First, they must (re)establish positive relationships with new and old representatives and their updated electoral mandates (estimated 50% new MEPs). Second, they have to reduce the perceived ‘legitimacy gap’ between the private sector, public representatives and the European electorate. Despite these challenges, there is potential for consultants to reset the stage for real partnerships by re-evaluating the way in which they approach MEPs and portray their activities and interests. This can be done in two ways: by encouraging transparency through client registration and by showing more openness for accountable partnerships and deliberation. Through this, consultants can foster balanced public policy-making toward the goal of overcoming increasing popular distrust. In many ways, public affairs professionals are in an ideal position to reinvigorate the interface between the public and private spheres due to their in-depth knowledge of institutional procedures, a long-standing experience in Europe, expertise in key policy fields, established relationships with key stakeholders and a growing track record of cultivating debate between industry, NGOs and CSOs. By using this skill set and by considering broader public interest(s), professional public affairs consultants can help overcome these transitional challenges of mutual trust.

Third prize essay of Nuno Loureiro and Daniel Smith from Interel

“Transition year: EU challenges and the professional Public Affairs consultant.”
The 1-hour Theorem

In a year of European elections, effectiveness and credibility are unquestionably the EU institutions’ biggest challenge. Pressures from all sides often drive efforts away from the policy-making process which provides the eurosceptic approach with arguments to misrepresent an already nebulous European project.

The “1-hour Theorem” is a pro-bono time-allocation estimation which demonstrates that if one hour a week of one public affairs professional in each European Public Affairs Consultancy (EPACA)  in Brussels is refocused, over 180,000 hours per year (or over 22,500 working days, the annual equivalent of a staff of almost 100 people[1]) could be allocated to addressing pending EU challenges. This can be a powerful, useful and efficient tool.

Why? By applying this idea in a structured manner (e.g. through EPACA), EPACs would become “ambassadors” in the name of knowledge and information that is rarely conveyed in a coherent manner to the European institutions. In other words, by harnessing the collective expertise of the EU affairs community, EPACs could play a key role in strengthening the element of democratic access to the EU institutions.

How? EPACs’ would help “explain Europe” to a sector that does not always have the resources to hire such expertise, via activities like policy monitoring, assistance strategic communication, or the access to the right policy-making levels.

What’s in it for EPACs? This naturally integrates itself within a wider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) framework. Wider, because the potential of directly contributing to addressing a pending challenge goes further than the typical visibility-focused CSR activities.

“You may delay, but time will not”, and just 1 hour of our time can help to address  some of the EU’s long-delayed challenges.