The future of public affairs in France

Aristide Luneau, Partner in Interel’s Paris office and author of ‘Lobbying, les coulisses de l'influence en démocratie’ looks at the challenges and opportunities for the public affairs profession in France.

Interel France is celebrating 25 years leading the way in relation to an ethical approach to public affairs in France. We are proud to say that we have been involved from the outset in driving change in the industry.  We are also proud to say that our approach is gaining ground in recognition of the need for greater transparency and because of significant changes in working methods.

Over the past two years in France, various alleged “lobbying” and corruption scandals have caught the attention of the media and led to calls for lobbying to be more closely regulated.

To give an example, a pharmaceutical firm was accused of tampering with a parliamentary report and with bribing elected officials… a Budget Minister had to resign after being charged with evading tax on his fees as consultant for private companies… a very expensive lunch offered to MPs by a tobacco company was exposed by the media… and a close advisor to President Hollande left the Elysee after been accused of conflicts of interest and peddling influence in his previous position. All those affairs created confusion and tarnished the image of lobbying in the country.

The Association of Professional Lobbyists, co-founded in 1991 by Florence Maisel, Managing Partner of Interel in Paris, has been working since its inception for an ethical approach to public affairs in the country.  One of its principal achievements has been the development of a Code of Conduct for public affairs professionals. The French parliament has also approved a law on control of conflicts of interest and introduced a Register, directly inspired by the European « Transparency register », in which all lobbyists declare their activities. This has been an important change, and consultancies like Interel have worked with their clients to promote the advantages of transparency.  We are proud to have been the first consultancy to make the appropriate declarations.

This growing need for transparency goes together with the desire of citizens to influence and control their elected officials, which is possible because of new forms of digital engagement.

Those digital tools have opened new possibilities for our profession too and caused it to evolve in three different ways:-

Firstly, digital technology has transformed our own business. 25 years ago, the challenge was to be able to provide the client with information that wasn’t available elsewhere. Today, of course,  everyone can access the same  information almost instantaneously and we have moved from being those ‘in the know’ to those who really understand the implications of change for our clients.

Secondly, the ability to influence public opinion has been considerably reinforced with the development of the internet. Each and every lobby now has a plethora of  new tools at their disposal (mailouts, e-petitions, websites …) and new arenas (forums, social medias…) where they can influence and shape the debate. We relish the opportunity to adapt to this new environment and propose new lobbying strategies to our clients.

Thirdly, by removing physical boundaries, the internet contributes towards a much more direct relationship between government and citizens. Digital lobbying creates a level playing field in relation to participation in the debate and  allows everyone to personally promote their interests.

Public affairs professionals now have to  respond to this hunger for transparency. The future of public affairs in France lies in its capacity to adapt to this new context and its ability to build tools for a new digital democracy, where individual citizens are lobbyists in their own right. Interel is ready to embrace the challenge!

Author

Aristide Luneau

Partner

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