Guidance for policy officials: influencing EU policy

Guidance to assist policy officials in influencing EU policy in their policy areas.

Part 1: Who's Who in Brussels

Scottish Government EU Office

1. Located in the heart of the European Quarter in Brussels the Scottish Government's European Union Office ( SGEUO) is in a prime position to ensure that Scotland's interests, expertise and ambition are understood by European Institutions and other Member States and Regions.

2. The Brussels based office, in collaboration with Scottish Government policy leads, provides support to Scottish Ministers travelling to Brussels to participate in European Council meetings, to meet with key stakeholders including Member States, the European Commission and the European Parliament as well as monitoring developments in EU institutions and feeding this in to colleagues in Scotland.

3. Efforts are focused on priority areas which have an impact on our domestic responsibilities and where Scotland can achieve real benefits in the long run. We also identify opportunities where we can demonstrate to the European Union that Scotland is a constructive partner that can play a leading role and contribute for the wider benefit of EU citizens. However, we strive to engage directly with the EU institutions, UK counterparts and stakeholders, in all areas of EU competence.

4. This work is complemented by a programme of policy and cultural events which usually take place in the conference centre in Scotland House. These events provide an opportunity to showcase areas of particular Scottish expertise, to share and debate best practice with European partners in areas of critical importance for Scotland, to contribute to European policy development and to invite others to share, celebrate and enjoy our rich cultural heritage and renowned hospitality.

5. The SGEUO is made up of a Head of Office; desk officers covering a wide range of policy areas; a European Parliament Liaison Officer; a Visits and Events Manager; two Finance and Administrative Officers; and two Interns who support work on events and policy.

6. To find details of the current post holders and who covers your policy area go to our Contacts List on the Website or get in touch on 0032 (0)2 28 28 330.

Working with the UK Permanent Representation and Whitehall

7. It is crucial to maintain good communications with your Whitehall colleagues, as they are a key conduit into Brussels. The UK is the member state and therefore in any negotiation taking place (see Chapter 3) it is important to have played a part in developing the UK position to ensure that it reflects Scottish interests and concerns.

8. The UK has an office of Permanent Representation in Brussels, usually known as UKRep, which works as the main interface between the EU and the UK. It can provide advice on contacting the institutions and act as a coordinating point for communication.
It is headed up by the UK's ambassador to the EU, or Permanent Representative, and is supported by a staff of policy officers and legal advisors. The team in SGEUO has very close links with the UKRep office, and can help if you need to contact anyone there.

Building Trust and Good Working Relationships

I have a standing meeting with the UKRep Justice and Home Affairs ( JHA) Section every two weeks, which can be anything from a short catch up with the Section Head to several meetings with desk officers on a range of topics, it just depends. The purpose is primarily to discuss SG priority dossiers, matters which affect Scotland and/or practical issues such as arrangements for upcoming Council meetings. JHA is a broad portfolio and talking to UKRep regularly helps me to cover more ground faster and often accelerates reporting to policy leads and EU coordination colleagues in Justice Directorate. It also gives me a better sense, and at times a useful heads up, on particular issues of concern to the UK Government. The personal contact with UKRep has proved to be invaluable on those rare occasions when there is a divergence of views between Scotland and the rest of the UK or there is a particular Scottish concern that I have to raise. Equally, I have been able to work constructively with UKRep when the UK Government has raised concerns. Above all, getting to know my UK colleagues and to understand the bigger picture in terms of negotiations is a crucial part of delivering on EU engagement for our Ministers. Our discussions are always professional, courteous and respectful of each other's role and policy position. I have also generally found my UK colleagues to be very helpful in terms of identifying UK policy leads and getting in touch with the right people in the institutions and other member states.
Alex Doig, Senior Policy Adviser, SGEUO

9. A Concordat on the Coordination of European Union Policy Issues is included in the Memorandum of Understanding between the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations. This states that Scottish Ministers and officials should be fully involved in discussions within the UK Government about the formulation of the UK's policy on all issues which touch on matters falling within devolved responsibilities. In return, the Scottish Government agrees to support the resulting UK negotiating line which we will play a part in developing.

10. Your UKG counterparts should keep you informed of any policy developments which might have a devolved element, but you should also take the initiative to keep yourself up to date. By being proactive you can show that you have a genuine policy interest and need to be included in the development of the UK position.

11. Don't forget the other parts of the UK either. Wales and Northern Ireland also need to be included in the UK line and it can be useful to have their support if your policy is different to the UKG position.

12. You should contact the UK Relations team if you need help engaging with your Whitehall counterparts.

The European Institutions

The European Commission

13. The European Commission is independent of national governments, instead representing and upholding the interests of Europe as a whole. The term 'Commission' can be used to refer both to the College of Commissioners as a political body and to the institution itself. The College of Commissioners consists of 28 Commissioners, one from each member state, and about 24,000 officials.

14. It has the sole right to propose legislation, although the Parliament can request that the Commission bring forward an initiative (under Article 225 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU). It sets objectives and annual priorities for action, drafts proposals for new European laws, and manages the implementation of EU policies and the spending of EU funds.


15. Although each Member State has a Commissioner, these Commissioners are not Member States representatives. Their oath of office requires them to consider the interest of the EU as a whole, and not take instructions from Member States. Overt nationalism by Commissioners is therefore rare, but they do bring their own understanding of their Member States of origin to Commission discussions and decisions.

16. Under the 2014-2019 Commission led by President Jean-Claude Juncker, a new structure or hierarchy within the Commission has been established. This sees a group of seven Vice-Presidents sitting above the remaining 20 Commissioners in groups known as 'Project Teams'. In practice this means that for many policy areas there is both a Commissioner and a Vice-President who holds sway. Among the Vice-Presidents there is a First Vice-President, who plays an important role in steering the priorities of the Commission.

17. Each Commissioner has a Cabinet - a private office/team of advisers. This team supports the Commissioner in delivering their programmes, providing advice as well as support to undertaking their daily activities. Cabinets also act as a political antenna for the Commissioner and help to mediate where there are competing interests. Cabinet Members and Heads of Cabinet are important contacts to have and can be invaluable in getting time with the Commissioner or delivering key messages.

Engaging with the Commission

18. Strong, honest and constructive relationships with the European Commission are vital to ensuring that Scotland's views and interests are known. Ensuring that Scotland's voice is heard at the very earliest possible stage in Commission policy development is crucial for effective engagement.

19. Scotland has built a strong reputation for being a positive, committed and credible partner. All of our engagement with the Commission should be strategic and well informed to maintain this critical relationship.

20. Meetings between Commissioners and Scottish Ministers and stakeholders, as well as between officials, whether in Brussels or Scotland, can be immensely helpful in explaining to the Commission the unique challenges that face Scotland. Advice on approaching Commissioners should be sought at an early stage from the Scottish Government EU Office ( SGEUO).

21. The Commission is a fairly open institution - you can use the link to the Commission Directory below, but do also contact SGEUO staff to ascertain if there are any existing links which can be used as a way in.
Commission Directory

Who to engage in the Commission

22. There are two fields in which to engage in the Commission - the technical and the political. The Political level - the Commissioners and their Cabinets - are useful for delivering overarching and political messages. The Technical level - the relevant DGs, especially the lead units - are critical for influencing the shape of policy which is under development.

23. The sections further below cover using early influencing opportunities and the negotiations process. This diagram sets out where the different parts of the Commission are engaged in the process - however you should also recall that the Commissioners set the overarching objectives and priority dossiers for the working year as well as longer term.

Policy Development in the Commission
Policy Development in the Commission

The Council

24. The Council of the European Union (often just called "the Council") is a key decision-making body of the EU. This is the forum where the national interests of the Member States are represented.

25. The Council is divided up into 10 different configurations, each dealing with a particular subject matter.

26. These meetings are composed of one representative from each Member State, authorised to commit his/her government and are almost all chaired by the Member State holding the rotating presidency. The representative is supported by officials - a Senior Official often sits alongside their Minister at the table. There is a secondary row of 2 to 3 chairs for further members of the Delegation. Scottish Ministers can attend Council and do represent the UK by agreement with the lead UK Minister.

27. However, before a matter is discussed at a Council meeting it will have been developed at official level in Working Group meetings, also comprised of representatives from each Member State. Officials can attend these meetings, in collaboration with UK counterparts, or ask the relevant Scottish Government EU Office desk officer to attend on their behalf.

The Presidency

28. The Presidency of the Council of the European Union is held in turn by each Member State for a period of six months, in accordance with a pre-established rota. As this is a fairly short term, Presidencies operate in Trios and seek to coordinate priorities and work on dossiers across an 18 month period. Individual Presidencies will work closely with the previous and subsequent Presidency country across Trios. Smaller Member States particularly may ask for support from a larger Member State who follows or precedes them as well as the wider family of Member States.

29. The Presidency plays an essential role in organising the work of the institution, particularly in promoting legislative and political decisions. It is responsible for organising and chairing all meetings, including the many working groups, and for brokering compromises.

30. It is therefore useful to know what the Presidency priorities are - you can find details of the current Presidency and links to their website on the relevant Council of the EU Webpage.

Engaging with the Council

31. Our interaction with the Council is of a different nature than that with the Commission and the Parliament. Engagement is primarily through the UK Government, which is responsible for representing the UK as Member State in EU Council Meetings. It is therefore essential that you have good communications with your Whitehall colleagues.

32. Scottish Ministers can and do represent the UK at Council meetings, where they will deliver the agreed UK negotiating line. This is agreed on an ad hoc basis and Ministers need to be granted permission to do so by the lead UK Minister.

33. At official level there is general acceptance that Scottish Government Officials may attend Working Parties in areas of devolved responsibility. In some subject areas this is more common than others, and does not require prior agreement.

34. Contact your Scottish Government EU Office desk officer if there are working party discussions taking place which you would like to attend, or which you think it would be useful to have the desk officer in Brussels attend.

The European Parliament

35. The European Parliament represents Europe's citizens in the EU decision making process. It is the only directly elected institution of the European Union and its members are elected every five years. The Parliament is led by its President, elected by the members for 2.5 years, who represents the Parliament and oversees its procedures.

36. There are 751 members of the European Parliament, elected on the basis of the population of each member state and its constituencies, six of whom represent Scotland. Members do not sit in national delegations, but instead in transnational Political Groups. About a third of the members are women.

37. Following the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, nearly all EU legislation (around 95%) is co-decided between the European Parliament and the Council, under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure ( OLP). This, in principle, puts the European Parliament on an equal footing with the Council.

38. There are still certain areas of legislation where the Ordinary Legislative Procedure does not apply, and the Parliament is only required to give its assent or to be consulted. Such areas include aspects of justice and home affairs, and taxation. In certain areas, such as the setting of annual total allowable catch limits in fisheries, the European Parliament has no input in the proceedings, with decisions taken in the Council.

39. Our MEPs can be very influential so it's good to get to know them, and their support staff. For example in the current Parliamentary session, 2014-2019, Ian Duncan, Conservative MEP for Scotland, is the rapporteur on the proposals for Phase IV the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Scottish Parliament

40. The Scottish Parliament is responsible for scrutinising the impact of legislative proposals on the people of Scotland and voting transposing legislation into Scottish law. Subject Committees take a close interest in EU legislation coming forward in their areas, and the Europe and External Relations Committee looks at cross-cutting EU issues.

41. Scottish Ministers need to be aware of current EU issues, so that they can explain to Parliament how the Scottish Government is engaging with topical or sensitive matters. Keep your Ministers fully briefed of legislation coming forward, and be prepared for your Subject Committee to request an update from your Ministers.

42. Your local Committee Liaison Officer will be able to assist you with contacting your subject committee. If you do not know who your CLO is, you can check here.

43. The Scottish Parliament has powers to scrutinise legislative proposals coming from the Commission to ensure that the proposed action is at the correct level of governance, respecting the principle of subsidiarity. This scrutiny happens through the Explanatory Memoranda ( EM) system. For more information on handling EMs and the principle of subsidiarity, please see our EM Guidance available at


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