On 10th March, I entered Holland House at Brussels’ famous Place du Luxembourg as a new-comer to Brussels in order to get a better understanding of the EU institutions. 1.5 days later, I left with an incredible amount of practical insights into EU advocacy, including new ideas as to how, when and who to engage with in the Brussels bubble, as well as a broadened network of key NGO people with great experiences in advocacy for the public good.
My original motivation to attend this training was to learn from practitioners in- and outside of the EU institutions. Indeed, in less than two days, I was given many more practical insights than in my Political Science and European Union studies at University thanks to the great practical knowledge of two EU-experienced trainers, insiders from different EU institutions, and from diverse participants working in fields such as human rights, the environment, corporate accountability and migration.
While one of the main agenda items, the exchange with the German Permanent Representation on the upcoming German Council Presidency, had to be unfortunately cancelled, the internal perspective of a political group advisor from the European Parliament and two attachées working for Permanent Representations to the EU were very valuable. They not only gave us tips and tricks on how to be the most effective in our advocacy and how to provide “the right message at the right time to the right person”, but they also put NGO advocacy in the broader context and illustrated how other actors try to influence the EU institutions and how this is perceived. Another personal highlight was the practical group exercise where we needed to develop a complete advocacy strategy for a legislative piece on sustainable supply chains; a topic that I am particularly passionate about and which is highly relevant for our EU work at Global Witness.
During this training, I grasped many new dimensions of EU advocacy and the concrete practical steps and preparation it requires. What I will definitely remember are key lessons such as:
Timing is key – engage as early as possible and all along the road;
Be aware of political developments in all relevant institutions and also engage with the Council, its presidency and the political staff of the Commission;
Don’t underestimate the national level as Member States have a great say;
Provide useful insights and illustrative arguments and be prepared for critical discussions;
Work in a team - build and use networks, within politics, with colleagues at national level and with other NGOs and allies, because together we are stronger and can pass our message more effectively.
Finally, I am convinced that I now have the essentials and the right insider knowledge to strive even more in EU advocacy and I would definitely like to do a training by Better Europe and EUChanger again. In an advanced EU advocacy course, I would like to learn how to best and effectively advocate in NGO coalitions and how to deal with counter-lobbying by actors advocating against the public good.