On February 2nd I had the opportunity to take part to the Public Affairs Summit 2016, the first event of this type organized in Romania by the Romanian Lobbying Registry Association. It was an event that gathered all the key actors of the lobbying industry, alongside public officials and civil society representatives as well as members of the diplomatic corp. The event was moderated by Laura Florea, President of the Romanian Lobbying Registry Association.
SESSION I. Policies & Regulations
The official interventions stressed out the reserved attitude of the Ministry of Justice toward any type of regulation in the lobbying area – the State intervention in this profession should be as limited as possible in order to avoid any risks that might impede the anti-corruption activities. Romania has an well-developed legislative framework and the problems are related to the implementation sector.
The Ministry of Public Consultations and Social Dialogue can be seen as a political statement of the Romanian Government in regards with the need for transparency and consultation in the public administration. It is about each institution taking its share of responsibility. The first step in succeeding these goals is to have a necessary clarification in the interpretation of legal norms while the second step concerns the increase of the transparency degree at the Government level.
We still need evangelists or at least is one of the perceived missions of the Competition Council – to promote the culture of competition. Competition is about rivalry and also about the need of the state intervention in order to prevent anarchy.
PANEL DISCUSSION: Beyond policy and advocacy: the strategic approach provided by public affairs; Lobby activity implications for public policy, business community and NGOs; Self-regulation vs state regulation for lobby activities.
Laura Florea, President of the Romanian Lobbying Registry Association spoke about the future while presenting to an eager audience the future trends of this domain:
- There will be an increasing need for mobilizing citizen groups to achieve success in lobbying.
- It will take broad communication to achieve success in lobbying.
- Trust and reputation of stakeholders and consumers will become shields or keys to the legislators’ chambers.
- Transparency and ethical credential are not optional anymore.
- Lobbying and public affairs is about communications. Those outstanding and memorable will be successful.
The civil society representatives stressed the clear distinction between “collective interest” versus “public interest” while underlining the problem of vision and that of representation. Good governance is not about politics as politics are just an instrument. They opposed the regulation of lobbying while emphasizing that self-regulation is not a universal panacea as it works only for the good guys.
In an unusual display of unity the business sector also opposes any type of Lobbying Law while favoring the existence of Transparency Register for Lobbying. Interest groups are something legit while we must make the necessary distinctions between advocacy and lobbying.
SESSION II. Lobby activity in the EU and Romania
More terminological clarifications were brought by the following speakers who differentiated between public affairs and lobbying. Social Media is also of high interest for the lobbying industry as the use of Facebook and Twitter is rampant thus affecting the way how lobbying campaigns are being designed.
PANEL DISCUSSION: Regulation vs. Self-regulation; Lobby in Romania v. Lobby in the EU; Effective self-regulation for those professionally engaged in public affairs
An ethical issue addressed was that of the “revolving doors” and of the “cooling-off period” concerning more precisely those persons who are following a professional path that leads them from the public sector to the private one and back in the same professional domain and the impact this circuit can have upon their decisions.
Gabriela Drăgan, Director-General of the European Institute of Romania, addressed in her intervention the need to clearly differentiate between lobbying and conflict of interests as the two are yet interlocked in the public perception.
She also presented to the audience the very comprehensive study dedicated to the study of lobbying in Romania Lobby în România vs. Lobby în UE (Lobbying in Romania v. Lobbying in the EU) written by a team of experts and published at the European Institute of Romania in 2015.
In the end this proved to be a very comprehensive event, the first of its kind in Romania, who while answering to some of the questions addressed at the beginning also raised new professional and academic challenges that await a resolution for the benefit of us all.
Additional reading about Lobbying in Romania v. Lobbying in the EU