Founded in 2005, the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association (EPACA) is the representative trade body for public affairs consultancies working with EU institutions. The association seeks to ensure that its member companies operate with full transparency and to the highest professional standards. To this end, the association has established formal self-regulatory arrangements, including a code of conduct and a professional practices panel for disciplinary hearings.

EPACA is the representative trade body for public affairs consultancies working with EU institutions. EPACA’s remit does not run to public affairs professionals in individual EU member states, nor to public affairs professionals in trade associations or corporations. EPACA membership currently comprises of 42 companies with over 600 staff, representing almost every major public affairs consultancy in Brussels, and about 75% of professional EU public affairs service providers.

EPACA is a membership-based representative trade association. Members are consultancy companies, rather than individuals. It is run by a selection of representatives of its 42 member companies in the form of an elected Management Committee of 15 senior public affairs professionals.

The PPP is an autonomous body of distinguished professionals such as former MEPs, representatives of industry associations, academics, etc, with no direct relationship with the PA consultancy industry, and a semi-detached relationship with EPACA. The PPP is charged with judging on alleged breaches of the EPACA code of conduct. The PPP must contain no fewer than three members, and members are appointed for a period of two years, renewable. The current PPP comprises five members:

  1. Alain Perroy, former Director General of CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council
  2. David Coen, Director of the School of Public Policy at University College in London
  3. John Bowis, former MEP
  4. Lisette Tiddens, former Secretary General of CPME, the Standing Committee of European Doctors
  5. Tom Spencer, European Centre for Public Affairs

The EPACA code of conduct is a 12-point code of best practices for public affairs professionals working in consultancies in the EU sphere. The code ensures that professionals in the EU-facing public affairs consultancies act with the utmost professionalism and in complete transparency. Signatories to the code all commit to abide by it, acting in an honest, responsible and courteous manner at all times and seeking to apply the highest professional standards. A revised version of the code of conduct was published in April 2013.

EPACA strives to ensure its members operate to the highest professional standards, and to that end an annual review of the code of conduct is provided for in EPACA’s statutes. This ensures that the code is constantly up to date and reflective of public affairs best practices, extremely important in a fast-moving sector in constant evolution, responding to shifting social, economic and political landscapes as well as new communications technologies. The latest revision, completed in the first quarter of 2013, is the product of an extensive review by the EPACA management committee with independent legal advice.

The new code of conduct contains three principle innovations that tighten up the code, make it clearer and easier to follow, and extend its scope.

  • The scope of the code is extended to cover all activities undertaken by EPACA members in the context of their EU public affairs work. This is significant, as previously the scope of the code of conduct only related to PA consultancies’ dealings with the EU institutions.
  • The interdiction against giving of financial inducements is extended to any elected or appointed public official, or staff of their institutions and political groups. This includes inducements at local, regional, national and EU levels.
  • It removes the general interdiction to avoid actions likely to bring discredit on the profession or the Association, as it was felt that this was too ill-defined as a specific article to the code, making it difficult to follow. However, Paragraph 4 of the EPACA guidelines covers this point by stating that “all signatories agree that they and all individuals acting upon behalf of their companies will adhere to the code and will avoid actions likely to bring  discredit upon the profession or the Association”
Upon the receipt of a formal complaint, the EPACA Management Committee meets to adjudicate on the admissibility of the complaint. The bar is set high, with a two-thirds majority needed to reject the complaint. Should the subject of the complaint be represented on the EPACA Management Committee, that MC member is obliged to recuse itself from case deliberations.

Once a case has been admitted, it is passed to the EPACA Professional Practices Panel (PPP) for consideration. If the alleged breach is deemed by the PPP to have taken place, the MC has recourse to four options of action, depending on the gravity of the breach, namely:

  • Providing the member concerned with guidance on best practices and further training on the code of conduct in general and on the area of the breach in particular.
  • A formal reprimand, instruction of remedial action to be taken, and a warning of future conduct.
  • Suspension for up to six months.
  • Expulsion from EPACA. This option requires an Extraordinary General Meeting.

In the past five years only two cases have come before the management committee. Of these, the committee deemed one to be admissible and referred it to the PPP. However the PPP threw out the case as it did not directly involve the subject company’s relationship with the EU institutions. Although the Management Committee knew this before referring the case to the PPP, it took very seriously the alleged transgression and so decided to refer the case nonetheless. This case was also the stimulus to expand the scope of the code of conduct to cover all activities of members in their provision of public affairs consultancy, and not just their relationship with the EU institutions.

With 88% registered, EPACA members have overwhelmingly embraced the European Transparency Register. Moreover, each and every EPACA member has clearly demonstrated its commitment to full transparency and openness by signing up to the EPACA code of conduct: it is important to remember that EPACA and its Code of Conduct are officially recognised by the EU institutions.

The Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP) fulfils a different but complementary role to EPACA. Whereas EPACA is a representative trade association for professional public affairs consultancies active in the EU marketplace, SEAP is a collective of individual public affairs practitioners and professionals, whether they work in consultancies, trade associations or corporations. There is of course some membership overlap, which also helps ensure effective cooperation.