Dutch call for extension of EU competition guidelines for tech companies

As theDutch lib-dems recently calledfor additional competition regulation for tech companies, the ministry for Economic Affairs also switched from fostering digital platforms for the Dutch ecosystem to a more critical position on their market share.

EU guardrails for digital platforms

The Dutch deputy minister for Economic Affairs, Mona Keijzer (Christian-Democrats), calls for EU guardrails for digital platforms. In a letter to the Dutch parliament, she advocates to extend the authorization of the Directorate-General Competition.

The Dutch government wishes to extend the guidelines used by DG Competition and will actively search for support from other member states. This should be one of the objectives for the new European Commission.

The letter to the Dutch parliament mentions:

  • Specific concerns about technology companies that act as gatekeepers for consumers and businesses;
  • Wish for ex ante intervention by the Commission on EU level. For instance in tech acquisitions;
  • Current EU competition regulation provides sufficient tools and does not need to be adapted. But, the guidelines should be adapted.
  • DG Competition should be able to force digital platforms to share data on reasonable conditions or to actively offer options of other providers when platforms are used for cross-selling;
  • Thresholds in the current guidelines are aimed at turnover and market-share. These thresholds should be adapted as tech-acquisitions are not flagged based on the current guidelines. For instance, the EC could look at the value of a transaction in acquisitions.

The Dutch deputy-minister is likely to discuss this in the EU Competition Council on May 27/28.

Questions or request for more intel, shoot me an email atpwalraven@publicmatters.nl

Public Matters opens EU office in Brussels

Today (1 May, 2019), Public Matters has opened an office in Brussels, in the heart of the European Union (EU) and the center of European decision-making.

Influencing decision-making at EU level

Many policies in the Netherlands and other member states have their origins at EU level. Whether it concerns the development of the European internal market, the setting of renewable energy targets, the realisation of trade agreements or state aid and competition oversight.

That’s why many organisations have an interest in influencing decision-making at European level, often in addition to national and local levels. In this perspective, the European institutions, including the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council, but also European trade associations and NGOs, are very relevant stakeholders.

Active in Brussels since 2001

To meet the growing demand for EU affairs support – public affairs and lobbying support aimed at European decision-making – the opening of an EU office in Brussels is a logical step. We have been active in Brussels since the establishment of Public Matters in 2001, and opening our own EU office enables us to offer even better access to EU stakeholders and EU decision-making processes.

EU affairs support

Our EU affairs support includes supporting organisations with the design of the right strategy and the most effective implementation, including the following activities:

  • Map and assess relevant EU policy developments;
  • Develop strategies aimed at influencing (new) EU policies;
  • Position organisations towards policy makers and other relevant stakeholders at EU level;
  • Formulate key messages for the European policy and legislative process;
  • Realise coalitions between stakeholders with the same interests;
  • Organise dialogues with relevant EU stakeholders.

Located in the European Quarter

Our EU office is located in the European Quarter (Avenue des Arts 39), close to the most relevant European institutions, the Dutch Permanent Representation to the EU and many other relevant European stakeholders. Please contact Bas Batelaan (+31 (6) 19858401) if you have any questions.

Den Haag

UPDATE DUTCH POLITICS: Right-wing Eurosceptic Forum for Democracy wins provincial elections

Yesterday (20 March, 2019) the provincial elections took place in the Netherlands

About 56% of eligible voters went to the polls and voted for 12 provincial councils, which are in turn responsible for electing the senate (on 27 May this year). These elections were considered critical for the majority of the current coalition parties, including VVD (Liberal Conservatives) of Prime Minister Rutte.

Huge win Forum for Democracy

The most remarkable result is the huge win of Forum for Democracy (FvD), a right-wing and Eurosceptic party led by Thierry Baudet. Where FvD gained two seats in the lower house in 2017, according to the most recent exit-polls they are set to become the biggest party in Senate (14,4%). Although most polls put them at 8 seats in senate (which would already have been an incredible achievement), they are now set to gain 12 seats. FvD is known for its scepticisms, regarding the EU (pro-Nexit) and climate change.

Coalition loses majority in senate

The current coalition government is likely to lose its majority in senate; the VVD will lose just one seat, but its coalition partners CDA (Christian Democrats) and D66 (Liberal Democrats) are also set to lose seats (CDA from 12 to 9 seats and D66 from 10 to 6 seats). Coalition partner Christian Union (CU) is set to gain one seat, from 3 to 4. This shift in balance for the coalition means it might be harder to pass bills in senate and there are only two parties big enough to help them reach majorities – Forum for Democracy and GroenLinks (Green Left).

Senate elections on 27 May

The provincial councils will elect the senate on 27 May this year and the new senators are to be installed on 11 June. After the European elections in May this year, the next elections concern the lower house – in 2021.

The overview below shows the preliminary results of yesterday’s provincial elections (# seats) – compared to the results of 2015. It should be taken into account that these figures are preliminary – not all votes have been processed so far.

  • FvD – Forum for Democracy = 12 seats (14,4% – N/A in 2015)
  • VVD – Liberal Conservatives = 12 seats (13,8% – 13 in 2015)
  • CDA – Christian Democrats = 9 seats (12 in 2015)
  • D66 – Liberal Democrats = 6 seats (10 in 2015)
  • PVV – Freedom Party = 5 seats (9 in 2015)
  • SP – Socialist Party = 4 seats (9 in 2015)
  • PvdA – Social Democrats = 7 seats (8 in 2015)
  • GroenLinks – Greens = 9 seats (4 in 2015)
  • ChristenUnie – Christian Conservatives = 4 seats (3 in 2015)
  • Partij voor de Dieren – Animal Party = 3 seats (2 in 2015)
  • SGP – Christian Conservatives = 2 seats (2 in 2015)
  • 50PLUS – Elderly Party = 0 seats (N/A in 2015)
  • DENK – Pro-immirant Party = 0 seats (N/A in 2015)
  • OSF – Independent Senate Party = 0 seats (1 in 2015)

EP 2019: between now and summer recess everything will change

With the European elections coming up, what can we expect from the Dutch?

In March, provincial and senate elections might result in a shift in power for the current Dutch coalition: if it loses its senate majority, passing bills will ultimately be more challenging. Furthermore, recent polls see the rise of another Eurosceptic party – Forum for Democracy, which would make selling EU policies to the Dutch electorate increasingly difficult over the coming years.

But why should you care about the Netherlands, you ask?

Is PM Mark Rutte looking for a job in Brussels?

Some may remember Mark Rutte’s mild Euroscepticism at the onset of his career as Dutch Prime Minister. No more money to Greece was one of his party’s unofficial slogans of 2012. It exemplified Rutte’s approach.

According to rumours, Rutte is now aiming for a high position in Brussels. This comes as no surprise: in 2019, evidence for Rutte’s change of heart is plain to see. Only one thing stands in the way of this prediction: it seems he does not want to leave domestic politics. Where Rutte’s initial denial of his European ambitions could be seen as self-defence (never reveal your true ambitions), his current promise to the Dutch voter to finish what he started is pretty convincing. Especially considering he would already have had to book his tickets to Bruxelles-Schuman by now.

But Rutte remains an interesting cog from a business perspective. The ex-Unilever-manager-turned-Prime-Minister is known for his business friendly liberal approach. And the new and improved Euro-friendly Rutte has blossomed into one of Brussel’s old boys. The ‘three M’-powerhouse that is Merkel, Macron, and Mark takes centre stage in Brexit negotiations, refugee rebates, you name it. He is an eager initiator in and out of the spotlights. No wonder the Netherlands are mentally preparing for his departure – whether it be in May or later.

What about the ambitions of European Commission Vice-President Timmermans?

Septilingual Commission VP Frans Timmermans is our second key Dutch player in the European arena. Timmermans’ Dutch Spitzenkandidatur is not unique: Bas Eickhout is also Spitzenkandidat, but for the Greens (sharing his kandidatur with Ska Keller). Unlike Eickhout however, Timmermans actually has a – tiny – shot at the presidency. Without a coalition partner Timmermans’ chances seem negligible, but this should not stop us from considering his role in Brussels.

Timmermans is responsible for the fairly recent revision of the transparency register for lobbyists in Brussels, one of Commission President Juncker’s early promises. The Council of Ministers is now subject to this register as well. Critics wanted to extend the register to the Member State Permanent Representations, but for Timmermans this was a bridge too far. Either way, Timmermans himself is known for his extensive EU-network.

An October 2018 poll revealed over half of Dutch citizens to be in favour of Timmermans becoming the next Commission President. An interesting detail is that any president of the European Commission has to be approved by the Council, which means Rutte might have to approve Timmermans’ possible ascension to the throne. But barring the unlikely, Timmermans’ popularity won’t be enough for the Dutch to welcome their first Commission President.

Brexit and the Dutch

But let me be honest, only one issue really dominates the European agenda in the Netherlands: Brexit is coming. The Dutch have an immense interest in this area, their main business-partners have committed kamikaze and the Dutch are scrambling to minimise the damage. Rutte’s and Timmermans’ ambitions reflect their approach to Brexit. Rutte’s main efforts in Brussels are centred around damage control for the Dutch. The stakes are high, a British business exodus favours settlement in the Netherlands. Timmermans repeatedly warns of the damage that Brexit will cause – from a European perspective. Precisely what you would expect froman aspiring Commission President.

With elections at home and in Brussels, and Brexit on the horizon, we can predict only one thing: between now and summer recess, everything will change.


This blog can also be found on the EU-website of APCO.

Dutch Lib Dems open fire on Big Tech

The Dutch Liberal-Democrats (D66) launched a plan to restrain (mainly US) tech companies. In a 17-page document published earlier this month, the Lib Dems propose to cap market power by companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google (dubbed ‘FAANGS’) by adjusting current competition laws. The Parliament will discuss the plan with the Cabinet at the end of March, but not before the parliamentary fractions have had the chance to provide input on the Lib Dem initiative.

Decreasing support for digital platforms

The most striking fact is that D66 has always embraced tech firms as many of their voters find their way in the new digital economy. When even the Lib Dems are decreasing their support for the digital platforms, big tech could expect an increase of political pressure in the upcoming EP elections and probably in other elections as well.

The initiative by Mr. Kees Verhoeven MP consists of 14 measures to constrain the ‘Techgiants’. Notably, all the measures refer to revising current Dutch and European competition laws which, dating back to as early as the 1890 U.S. Sherman Antitrust Act. The 5 most eye-catching proposals are highlighted below:

1) Enable ex ante obligations in tech M&A’s

To prevent incorrect market definitions, competition regulation needs to adapt to the fact that platforms operate in multilateral markets;

2) Include privacy legislation in the scope of competition rules

D66 wants to oblige data-sharing to prevent tech platforms from gaining an unfair competitive advantage or raising the bar for market entrants;

3) The European Commission should investigate future market potentials when assessing acquisitions

This should prevent a continuous acquisition of start-ups by tech-platforms;

4) Introducing a new limit regarding the marketshare definition in the competition law

Article 102 VWEU should be adapted. D66 suggests the market shares of major tech companies should be below 50%;

5) Lowering turnover threshold for acquisitions

Based on the example of the Facebook takeover of Whatsapp. Following Germany and Austria, the initiator suggests to oblige companies to notify when a ‘target’ has substantial activities in NL;


For those who read carefully it is clear that the foundation for these issues was outlined in the earlier published D66/ALDE election program for the EP elections. The issue was discussed extensively between world and business leaders during last January’s World Economic Forum in Davos as well, where Big Tech was even compared to the Tobacco Industry. These developments could probably make it one of the main issues during the campaigns of the European Parliament elections in May.

Protectionism in the Netherlands

The initiative can be seen as part of a larger trend of protectionism in the Netherlands similar to the introduction of a ‘cool-down period’ for (hostile) takeover bids on Dutch companies. As the initiative is now primarily targeted at the US-tech companies, it would be even better if the plan would be linked to an ambition to stimulate Dutch (tech) companies to build up similar positions. When one decides to adjust competition law, it can never be adjusted based on developments in the tech-sector solely however. Therefore – and as the Cabinet has to formally react to the D66 plan – we assume that the competition directorate of the ministry of Economic Affairs will investigate the effects in a variety of business sectors.

Coalition agreement

As the Dutch government faces an unstable 2019 and Dutch competition law has not changed for a while, many of the measures proposed in the paper are expected to be input for the next Dutch coalition agreement or at least the next D66 election program. During a debate on competition in Dutch Parliament last week, a first introduction of Mr. Verhoeven’s plans was supported by both opposition and coalition. Parliament now has a month to comment on the Lib Dem initiative. After 21 March 21 the ministry of Economic Affairs will provide its view.

More foreign companies invest in Holland in 2018: 10,000 extra jobs

A total of 372 foreign companies such as Giant, Timberland and DAZN generated 9,847 additional jobs in the Netherlands in 2018. Collectively, these companies contributed 2.85 billion euros to our economy. These jobs and investments are credited to the Invest in Holland network, which consists of the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) – the investment promotion agency of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy – its regional partners, and the Holland International Distribution Council (HIDC). In the previous year, 2017, 357 companies invested 1.67 billion euros in our country.

Minister Wiebes of Economic Affairs & Climate Policy: “These results once again confirm that foreign companies are important to our globally operating country. Around one million people work for foreign companies in the Netherlands and an additional half-million work indirectly for these companies as suppliers, particularly in SMEs. Due to the growing international uncertainty surrounding Brexit and changing global trade policies, the importance of a good Dutch business climate for all of us is continually increasing.”

The work of the NFIA falls partly under the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag: “The impending Brexit and tensions around international trade provide opportunities for Dutch companies. Our companies are innovative, flexible and adapt to this changing market. Furthermore, the Netherlands’ position as a stable economic hub is also attractive to foreign companies. This position will only be further strengthened. It is positive that this is reflected in the approximately 10,000 newly-created jobs in 2018.”

From headquarters to R&D

The NFIA is responsible for 8,475 out of the 9,847 jobs created by the Invest in Holland network. In 2018, the NFIA managed to attract 248 foreign investment projects to the Netherlands, which collectively account for 2.76 billion euros in investments. The annual results also show that the majority of new jobs are created within headquarters (2,259), followed by marketing & sales offices (1,834), distribution centers (1,053), service centers (977), production sites (884) and R&D locations (755). As illustration, sports media company DAZN established a development center in Amsterdam, Giant and Timberland expanded their European distribution locations (in Lelystad and Almelo respectively) and Mitsui Chemicals committed to producing plastics at the Chemelot Campus in Limburg.

The majority of ‘foreign jobs’ are, as in 2017, created by US companies. In 2018, this accounted for 3,185 jobs, with a total accompanying investment of 1.19 billion euros. Following the US is the United Kingdom (1,596 jobs), then China (614 jobs), Japan (580 jobs) and Germany (300 jobs).

More Brexit companies

In 2018, the Invest in Holland network brought 42 companies to the Netherlands as a result of Brexit, accounting for 1,923 jobs and some 291 million euros in investments. Companies signaling expansion of their offices in the Netherlands partly due to Brexit , include the Japanese investment bank Norinchukin and media company TVT Media. Financial services providers MarketAxess and Azimo, and maritime insurer UK P&I all announced office openings in our country last year, due to Brexit as well. The relocation of the European Medicines Agency(EMA) to Amsterdam, also supported by Invest in Holland, is included herein. In 2019, several companies, including Discovery and Bloomberg, have already announced their intention to invest in the Netherlands because of Brexit.

The number of companies relocating activities to our country due to Brexit has grown compared to 2017, during which 18 companies made a Brexit-related move to the Netherlands. Additionally, the NFIA is talking with more than 250 foreign companies considering setting up operations in the Netherlands following Brexit. These are predominantly British companies, but also American and Asian organizations that are reconsidering their current European structure due to uncertainties caused by Brexit. These include companies in the financial sector, media and advertising, life sciences & health and logistics. In addition to the Netherlands, these companies are also investigating options in other countries, including Germany, France and Ireland

Source: https://investinholland.com/more-foreign-companies-invest-in-holland-in-2018-10000-extra-jobs/

UPDATE DUTCH POLITICS: Elections and other stuff put coalition government to test

Never a dull moment in Dutch politics! The current coalition government is sticking together, but looking back at 2018 and ahead to 2019, cracks seem to appear.

2018 – What has happened?

  • GroenLinks/Greens and local parties were the big winners of the municipal elections (in March). GroenLinks even became the biggest party in two main cities (Amsterdam and Utrecht) and local parties gained over 32% of the votes.
  • Support for the coalition government has dropped significantly, possibly due to a lack of tangible results.
  • Prime Minister Rutte has suffered a blow after being forced to cancel the planned repeal of dividend tax, only just surviving a vote of no confidence in a parliamentary debate.
  • Alexander Pechtold, leader of D66/Liberal Democrats, resigned after almost 13 years, to be succeeded by the ‘young and unexperienced’ Rob Jetten (31 years of age).
  • Following long negotiations involving many stakeholders (companies, NGOs, etc.) a comprehensive National Climate Agreement was presented in December. Now the government needs to agree on its execution, which could be difficult. Views differ significantly, mainly regarding the question who will foot the bill of the proposed measures. Last week VVD-leader Klaas Dijkhoff even publicly distanced himself from the agreement.

2019 – The coalition government has a bumpy ride ahead

  • The provincial elections (20 March) will be a serious test for the government; the to be elected provincial councilors in the 12 provinces will in turn elect the senate on 27 May. Key question is whether the government will keep its current slight majority in Senate.
  • The European elections (23 May) will be the next benchmark for the popularity of government; due to Brexit, 29 seats in the European Parliament are now at stake (instead of the current 26).
  • The reform of the pension system, as announced in the coalition agreement, is probably the hottest potato for the government. In 2018 initial talks with stakeholders have proven unsuccessful – talks between unions and employers were ceased – and now the minister of Social Affairs has to come up with a new plan.
  • The government also plans to reform the labor market (strengthen the position of freelancers, prepare workers for the future, etc.) which will not be an easy political ride either.
  • Although currently the Dutch economy doing well, it will be a challenge for the government to manage the negative impact of Brexit on the Dutch economy, which is closely tied to Britain. A no-deal Brexit could even cost the Netherlands at least €34bn up to 2030 (which is €164 per resident per year).

Photo: Rijksoverheid by Valerie Kuypers

Successful management buy-in Public Matters

New partnership Dutch public affairs agency focusses on excellence, innovation and growth.

Managing partners Cees Westera, Pieter Walraven and Bas Batelaan have acquired a majority of shares in Public Matters, the leading public affairs agency in the Netherlands, from founder Peter van Keulen. Following this transaction, Public Matters enters a new phase, 17 years after its establishment.

Through the management buy-in the company’s foundation is strengthened and broadened. Founder and shareholder Peter van Keulen will continue to play an important role, focusing on providing strategic advice and developing innovative public affairs concepts.

The three new managing partners combine more than 45 years of expertise in public affairs and strategic communication, in the Netherlands and in Brussels. They focus on the continued growth of Public Matters, by providing strategic advice to (inter)national companies, associations, and governments. In addition to hands-on public affairs advice, this includes building integrated campaigns, regarding which effective stakeholder and reputation management, media relations, and the use of digital public affairs are key elements.

Peter van Keulen: ‘The fact that Cees, Pieter and Bas have committed themselves to Public Matters shows great confidence. Together with our clients and our team of consultants we are building a great company in a growing market, focusing on providing excellent services. ‘

About Public Matters

Public Matters is the leading public affairs agency focusing on policy influencing and strategic communication. Our consultants advise clients on how to acquire a desired position in the political, administrative, and public arena – based on the most effective strategies, making use of (inter)national networks in The Hague and Brussels. Our consultants have multidisciplinary expertise at the cutting edge of business, government and society. Our clients are active in a variety of sectors, including healthcare, technology, financial, climate & energy, infrastructure & mobility, real estate, non-profit, and business-to-consumer.

Update Dutch Politics – Greens and local parties big winners local elections

Greens and local parties big winners local elections. Exit polls show mixed results for coalition parties.

Yesterday (21 March, 2018) the Netherlands went to the polls to vote for 335 local councils. Following national elections in March last year – these elections are considered to be a first test for the current coalition parties, including VVD (Liberal Conservatives) of Prime Minister Rutte.

Following a voter turnout of 55,1%, the main conclusion is that GroenLinks (Greens) and local parties are the big winners. GroenLinks even became the biggest party in 2 main cities (Amsterdam and Utrecht) and local parties gained more than 32% of the votes.

The exit polls show a mixed result for the 4 coalition parties. Whereas CDA (Christian Democrats) became the biggest national party and VVD (Liberal Conservatives) ended second, D66 (Liberal Democrats) lost significantly and ChristenUnion (Christian Conservatives) experienced a slight loss.

On the far right side of the political spectrum, Forum voor Democratie, a national-conservative party led by Thierry Baudet, participated only in Amsterdam, where it won 5,9% of the votes. Their main rivals, the PVV / Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, participated in 30 municipalities, but did less well than expected, possibly due to the succes of local populist parties.
Another remarkable result is the success of the pro-immigrant party Denk, which participated for the first time in local elections – in 12 cities – and did well in for example Rotterdam (7,2%) and Amsterdam (6,7%).

Alongside the local elections a consultative referendum on the Dutch Intelligence and Security Services Act was held. A slight majority of voters seems to be against this act (48,3% vs 47,1%) – which would provide more authorizations to monitor data and communication to the Dutch intelligence services,

The table below shows the preliminary results of the elections – compared to the results of the last national elections (March 2017). It should be taken into account that – due to the success of local parties – the results of national parties in the local elections are relatively poor compared to the national elections. In addition, as several national parties (like PVV, Forum voor Democratie and Denk) only participated in a limited number of municipalities, it doesn’t make sense to aggregate their results on a national level.

Percentage In number of seats
Exitpolls Parliament Difference Uitslag exitpoll Parliament Difference
VVD 20,3% 21,3% 1% 31 33 2
PVV 12,2% 13,1% -0,3% 19 20 1
CDA 12,4% 12,5% 0,1% 19 19 0
D66 12,6% 12% -0,6% 19 19 0
SP 9,4% 9,1% -0,3% 14 14 0
GroenLinks 10,2% 8,9% -1,3% 16 14 2
PvdA 6% 5,7% -0,3% 9 9 0
ChristenUnie 3,7% 3,4% -0,3% 6 5 1
50Plus 3% 3,1% 0,1% 4 4 0
Partij voor de Dieren 3,3% 3% -0,3% 5 5 0
SGP 2% 2,1% 0,1% 3 3 0
DENK 2,1% 2% -0,1% 3 3 0
Forum voor Democratie 1,4% 1,8% 0,4% 2 2 0
Other 1,4% 2% 0,6% 0 0 0
Total 100% 100% 150 150 6

Source: www.ipsos.com, 20.03.2018


Brexit boom for Britain’s lobbyists

Whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations, one set of people looks certain to cash in: British lobbyists.

The legal and regulatory uncertainty triggered by Britain’s departure from the European Union is sparking a business boom for lobbying firms that specialize in influencing the messy business of lawmaking in Westminster and Brussels.

“Someone once said to me if the London population is going to go up, invest in rats: more people, more rats,” said Katie Perrior, former director of communications for Prime Minister Theresa May. “It’s quite simple: more regulation, more lobbying.”

The first opportunity for lobbyists is the government’s giant Repeal Bill, which parliament will begin debating Thursday. The legislation is the beginning of an effort that will make up a sizable bulk of the government’s work over the coming two years, ahead of Britain’s exit from the EU in March 2019.

The bill will copy all EU legislation into British law to ensure a smooth transition. And then — after three decades in which London outsourced to Brussels everything from housing regulations to labor codes to environmental controls — Westminster will be able to amend or discard whatever bits it wants.

Brexit has already shaken up British electoral politics. The effects of last year’s referendum vote, which brought down a popular prime minister, continue to reverberate. The snap election in June intended to end the political uncertainty only made it worse, depriving the Tories of their majority and badly weakening May.

Now Brexit is set to bring structural and cultural changes to how politics is done. As Britain potentially rethinks every law on its books and seeks to strike dozens of trade deals, there will be much more to fight over in Westminster. The stakes for domestic and foreign interests — and with them the size of lobbying budgets — are only going to rise.

“Every charity or business is taking this opportunity to lobby for a slight change in something” — Katie Perrior, Theresa May’s former director of communications

Even the coming months, before the U.K. actually leaves the EU, offers openings for clever lobbyists, as a weakened government considers changes and civil servants work to paper over incompatibilities — for instance references to EU institutions — between the two legal systems.

“Every charity or business is taking this opportunity to lobby for a slight change in something,” said Perrior, who returned to the PR firm she founded, iNHouse Communications, after leaving the government in April.

This surge in pressure to amend legislation is already starting to drive a corresponding surge in public affairs, PR and lobbying firms lining up to offer their advice.

Measuring the scale and revenue of the British lobbying industry, however, is easier said than done, with much of the work carried out by public affairs teams in house or undertaken by firms that also do more conventional public relations work.

There are two main registers of lobbyists and lobbying firms in the U.K., but neither is comprehensive. The U.K. government’s Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists has 141 entries of lobbyists and 1,398 listed clients.

Firms or individuals must register as lobbyists if they receive payment from clients for communications with a minister or senior official relating to government policy or procurement. No information is kept on the cost of lobbying or what issues are being lobbied about.

One estimate made by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency — and used in 2015 by Transparency International, a charity whose investigations on lobbying in the U.K. have been part-funded by the European Commission — puts the annual spend on lobbying activities at around £2 billion and the number of people working in the industry at 4,000.

The 35 firms listed on the register that also appears in PR Week magazine’s top 150 consultancies — including major players like Portland, Hanover, and Bell Pottinger — had a combined U.K. revenue of more than £450 million in 2016, although this figure includes non-lobbying PR income.


This article is based on interviews with more than half a dozen senior figures in London’s public affairs industry, most of whom worked at the highest levels of government under Cameron and May.

Since the Brexit referendum, the field — which until recently was dominated by Blairites — has been flooded by a new wave of Tory consultants. Often ex-journalists or former political operatives, they’ve called time on their previous careers to command higher salaries guiding companies through the mess they’ve just escaped.

Craig Oliver, Cameron’s former director of communications, is now a senior managing director at the U.S. firm Teneo, which has a “Brexit client transition unit.”

Perrior, Oliver’s successor under May, has returned to iNHouse. Ameet Gill, Paul Stephenson and Lizzie Loudon — senior Conservative special advisers from different wings of the party — have joined forces to set up PR firm Hanbury Strategy, which has taken on big-name clients including Barclays.

Stephenson, who was the communications director for the Vote Leave campaign ahead of last summer’s referendum, said part of his new company’s early success was that it offered better connections to those currently in power.

“Many established public affairs firms are staffed with people who cut their teeth during the Blair years and clients have realized that they are not as well plugged in anymore,” he said.

The lobbyists interviewed for this article described an industry still struggling to get a hearing from a government machine barely able to cope with the enormous bureaucratic challenge of Brexit.

Many said they were playing a long game. They have yet to see a real Brexit boost to their bottom line but expect an uptick in business when the legislative process of leaving the EU clicks into gear this year.

“Brexit is the policy prism through which all public affairs work is now being conducted,” said Will Walden, managing director of Edelman U.K. and former chief adviser to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. “It runs through everything the government does and provides the political context. So clearly there’s a huge demand from clients to know what, when, who and how.”

The main lobbying opportunity, according to the consultants, is the Repeal Bill. For the first time in 40 years, European regulation is amendable in Britain, opening the door to a raft of special interest groups.

“The prime minister is going to be inundated with MPs who want to speak to her or the chancellor [of the exchequer] about every other thing,” Perrior said.

Perrior said the irony of Brexit was that the explosion in lobbying is likely to mean Britain ends up amending EU regulations, effectively creating even more red tape than currently exists from Brussels — even though excessive regulation is often cited as one of the major bugbears of EU membership by Brexit supporters.

Perrior was also clear that the lobbying bonanza was not time-limited until the Repeal Bill becomes law. “It’s a 10-year program that we’re going to go into now,” she said.

Weakened government

The main factor shaping the lobbying landscape: the country’s rapidly shifting politics.

One senior consultant said U.K. CEOs — particularly those who aren’t British — are “scared to speak out” about Brexit so look to public affairs firms to come up with ways to get their message across without putting their head above the parapet.

“People worry that they will get a whole heap of shit poured on them by the Daily Mail for talking Britain down,” he said. “They are going to contract it out to trade bodies or new umbrella groups. This pools the risk.”

Lobbyists of all political stripes agree that the change at the top of government triggered by May’s loss of a parliamentary majority opened the government up to more outside influence.

Edelman’s Walden, who remains close to Foreign Secretary Johnson, said: “Post election I think there’s certainly a greater willingness in government to hear what business has to say on Brexit.”

The departure of “the chiefs” — the prime minister’s former chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill — has left May severely weakened, and more easily pushed around by powerful MPs and members of her cabinet.

Those who worked in No. 10 before the election said the control exerted by May’s two powerful advisers was so strict that business leaders did not see the point in talking to anyone else in government — including the Brexit secretary or chancellor.

Since the election, Chancellor Philip Hammond has met regularly with the prime minister, according to senior Conservative officials, rather than always going through Timothy and Hill.

“The things people are lobbying about are just a drop in the ocean of other issues the government is dealing with” — A senior former government official

“It’s much more open, much more inclusive, the people in No. 10 now are asked their opinion and empowered to do their jobs,” Perrior said. “Cabinet ministers feel exactly the same.”

This change in culture is most clearly illustrated by David Davis — now freed from No. 10’s control — inviting business leaders and industry groups to his official mansion Chevening for a day-long meeting about Brexit.

There’s a catch, though. The scale of Brexit — and the lobbying opportunities it presents — could prevent public affairs firms from being as successful as they might hope.

“The government simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to deal with it,” said one senior former government official who did not want to be named and is now in the lobbying industry. “The things people are lobbying about are just a drop in the ocean of other issues the government is dealing with.”

“In order to lobby you need to get your arms around something and get traction,” he added. “But on Brexit, you reach out and it’s just a huge, amorphous hole. It’s so volatile and so disruptive.”

The former senior official in the Cameron government said there was “a degree of snake oil” about lobbying. “Anyone who tells you they’re the person who can get you heard in central government, they are not being entirely honest.”

Indeed, direct access to ministers remains much more restricted than in the United States, where lobbyists meet with politicians more frequently.

“The door in No. 10 isn’t really open to lobbyists,” said another former No. 10 official, now a political consultant. “The types who trade off the idea that they are in the know are actually just speaking to relatively junior special advisers.”

Drinking culture

Another senior political consultant, who did not want to be named, said the lack of direct access often caused problems when dealing with American clients.

“Sometimes when you deal with American companies, there is a little bit of a culture clash,” the lobbyist said. “In the States, there’s a general expectation that you can help redraft legislation. That emphatically does not happen here.”

The former aide said: “That’s where the drinking culture comes in. They put on these drinks for special advisers on the basis of friendship and then ask them to do them a favor.”

One event targeted by former government aides turned lobbyists is the weekly special advisers’ drinks, organized by No. 10 aide Sheridan Westlake.

“In the U.S. it’s grown-up lobbyists having grown-up relationships,” he added. “In the U.K. ministers wouldn’t go for lunch with any lobbyist. In contrast [lobbyists] go for lunch with the No. 3 on a political team. It’s why special advisers — kids basically — are offered such huge sums to go to be lobbyists.”

A special adviser in government on £60,000 can go to earning over £100,000 at a public affairs firm. “There isn’t the experience to justify that salary,” the former aide said.

Advertising budgets are going down. Thought leadership budgets are going up.

The most innovative public affairs firms are giving up on traditional dinners or coffees in favor of new ways to drive conversation in Westminster.

One lobbying trick is to call yourself a trade body instead. “The lobbyists government ministers meet aren’t official lobbyists but industry groups,” one former No. 10 official said. “You can make the argument that it’s important to meet with these kinds of people.”

Others commission academic research in an attempt to depoliticize a policy debate.

“Pollsters and think tanks are experiencing a boom,” the consultant said. “Every sector worth their salt is asking for an evidence base to show why X will f–k over Y. Economic impact studies et cetera. Everyone needs an evidence base to deal with the government.”

Perrior said another new way of influencing the debate was putting on conferences. Advertising budgets are going down. Thought leadership budgets are going up. What CEOs want is to be on platforms with politicians.

“Talking for two hours about an issue is more successful than a quick 15-minute meeting at party conference,” she added. “They’re all in this space now where they want to be players at the top table.”

Bron: http://www.politico.eu/article/brexit-boom-time-for-britains-lobbyists-theresa-may-westminster-communications/?utm_content=buffer89deb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer