In Romania, there are still many who appreciate the quality of a lobbying agency regarding the access it has to the deciders or the rule makers of the moment. However, the lobbying activity requires a lot of work and professional integrity. It requires legal, political, sociological and communication knowledge. In supporting a public cause, a good lobbyist must be rigorous and creative at the same time.
1. Myth 1 about lobby: lobby is made only by lobbyists
There are many theorists who distinguish between lobby and advocacy, considering lobbying pursues a private interest, while advocacy pursues a public interest. Starting from this distinction, it is considered that only large companies lobby, and everyone else advocates. If the lobbyist is a lawyer, he will be expected to provide legal services, representing the clients’ interests. But the European Commission does not make this distinction, and considers that any activity of influence of decisions is confined to „representing interests”, and those who practice it are „representatives of interest groups”.
The lobbying activity in Romania is still at the beginning but, as everywhere in the world, most of the influencing activity is carried out by professional organizations, business associations, civil society, unions, employers, corporations, lawyers and others. Of this amount, only a part (probably less than 50%) came from lobbying activities, although the professional lobbying done by specialized agencies is much more efficient than the one made by own efforts by the organizations, as it provides legal, sociological, political expertise, economic and necessary communication. To make a parallel, it is similar to court representation, where a lawyer will always represent your interests more effectively than you could yourself, as a non-professional.
2. Myth 2 about lobby: lobby is illegal
The law governing the lobbying activity in Romania is still in the parliamentary process; it has already passed by the Senate, through tacit adoption, and now it goes to the Deputy Chamber, as a decider. According to the draft of the Romanian lobby law, the lobbying activity will be defined as „any contact person organized and structured with public representatives to exert influence in the interest of a client„.
The frequent connection between lobby and influence peddling is not likely to help sort things out. There is a clear delimitation between the two activities, one legal and the other criminal. Lobby, as an evolved form of influencing decisions, represents the set of legal and legitimate actions carried out in order to influence public policies. Thus, while the lobbyist promises diligence to achieve the result, the one who deals with the influence peddling directly promises the result. In Romania, the contribution of Romanian lobbyists to the creation of public policies is hard to detect today, but the situation will change as public policies will be proposed by a plurality of voices such as NGOs, think tanks, groups and professional organizations. In Romania, the greatest amount of influence is made by non-governmental organizations, lawyers, civil society, corporations, trade unions and others.
3. Myth 3 about lobby: lobby is undemocratic or anti-democratic
There are certain rumors about the anti-democratic character of the lobby activities, with the explanation that it is acting against the will of the people, who elected their representatives. Things are exactly the opposite, as lobby is one expression of democracy.
In other countries, lobby is an important part of the decision of public authorities. In Brussels, the capital of EU, the process of consulting with economic operators and civil society is serious and goes beyond the stage of formalism that still persists with us.
The European Commission considers that: „the representation of interest groups is a legitimate part of a democratic system„. The decision-making transparency and the public debates that take place on the draft normative acts in Romania are made by the eyes of the world in most cases, organized by officials without deciding power.
There is no doubt that the Romanian society needs more transparency from all the actors who participate in the process of influencing and making the decisions that affect it.
4. Myth 4 about lobby: lobby means dinners and meetings with politicians
Until you get to meet the politicians, a lot of other essential activities take place: monitoring of draft normative acts, comparative law analysis, sociological and economic impact research, political analysis, public study, and analysis, finding allies and identifying opponents, elaboration of arguments and communication strategy. Meetings and supporting arguments are not only held in front of politicians. Experts, officials, and advisors play an extremely important role in decision making. And these meetings are only part of the communication because other channels can be identified and used (mass-media, public conferences, press releases).
Probably the biggest challenge is educating politicians, clients and public opinion in this area. We are making efforts to correct the wrong public perception of the lobby, which is seen as a PR activity by some and as a influence peddling activity by others.
5. Myth 5 about lobby: lobby cannot change much of the political decisions
This is perhaps the most common cliché: „Why bother? Don’t you see that nothing is happening anyway? And why do we do the politicians’ work?”
There are some common mistakes that non-professionals make:
- lack of monitoring: „the law was published in the Official Gazette. What can we do?” Indeed, the monitoring of draft normative acts is essential for all those who are interested in public policies;
- lack of goals: it sets out general problems and calls for their resolution by the Romanian state or the Government. For example: „We need clearer legislation„;
- lack of communication strategy: it has to communicate consistently with the people who decide or can influence the decision.
„Let’s send a press release!” – not always the use of the press is a good idea, because it puts the parties in belligerent positions from the beginning. It is preferable to build a relationship based on trust between interest groups and authorities, until they are considered partners and not opponents.
Lobbying is a mode of action, often unobtrusive, as opposed to mass demonstrations that mobilize a large number of people. Lobbying refers to exercising of legal pressure on politicians, public authorities and, more broadly, decision-makers. The lobbying activity involves patience, hard work and even more expertise.
The lobbying activity helps to maintain and improving the public trust, trust in the democratic institution and the representation process of public politics.
More than that, the professional lobby and interest groups have the obligation to always act with ethics and morals in their relations with all parties involved.