Guidance for policy officials: influencing EU policy

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

Part 2: Early Influencing

Horizon scanning

44. Looking ahead and engaging early is critical, whether this is seeking to directly talk to Commission teams developing early policy thinking, or responding formally to Roadmaps and Public Consultations, all of these are critical junctures to influence EU policy. As a non-Member State these are often the moments we can have greatest direct influence. When a legislative proposal is already on the table, not only have the options already reduced in number, but there are 28 Member States and many hundreds of MEPs who get their hands on it, and we now need to influence them to act on our behalf.

Forward looks

45. Your SGEUO Desk Officer will prepare 'Forward Looks' twice a year to coincide with the start of each Presidency (January and July). These forward looks are designed to capture not only what our interest is in the key priority dossiers of the Presidency , but also consider what the Commission is working on and what proactive interests Scotland has which can be furthered over the coming six months.

46. If you're not already on the distribution list for these forward looks you can ask your desk officer for the most recent version and to be added for the future. As part of this process desk officers are looking for feedback and keen to hear if there are proactive interests in upstream EU influencing in specific subject areas.

47. There are however other key moments in the year which allow for a look ahead at what is coming up, you can check these out yourself and ask your desk officer to include you in any updates.

Policy Development in the Commission
Policy Development in the Commission

48. This is not a quick process, the diagram above sets out how the majority of initiatives are developed. The estimated 18 months - 2 years is particularly true for legislative initiatives, whereas non-legislative initiatives (Communications primarily) can sometimes be produced more speedily due to their lesser impact. Although don't be fooled, a non-legislative Communication can lead to new legislative initiatives so are sometimes as important to shape in terms of setting a direction.

49. As you can see there are a number of structured opportunities to engage in the process - we cover Consultations and Feedback on Roadmaps and Inception Impact Assessments below.

50. However throughout the whole process the Commission is lobbied by interested stakeholders, including member states and other EU regions. Therefore it is also important that, in priority areas, the Scottish Government is also involved and targeting our efforts wherever possible from the very beginning.

51. The Commission may adopt communications, green papers and white papers as part of the development of a formal legislative proposal - although these documents are not in themselves legally binding it is essential to influence them as they will help to set the direction for a formal proposal. Initial lines should focus on the key principles and direction of a forthcoming proposal. These lines can then be refined further as the policy progresses.

Commission Work Programme and Strategic Priorities

52. In order to engage effectively and early enough to be useful it is important to know what legislative proposals the Commission is planning to bring forward. The current Commission set a strategic framework of 10 Priorities when they entered office. These political guidelines - A New Start for Europe: My Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change - and the full suite (alongside actions so far) can be accessed online on the 10 Priorities Webpage.

53. In implementing this streamlined approach to working, the new Commission is taking a more targeted attitude to their annual Commission Work Programme. It now only identifies new initiatives for the coming year, REFIT actions (evaluations of existing legislation), proposals being withdrawn, and existing legislation being repealed.

54. The annual work programme can be accessed on the Commission At Work website.

55. Each Directorate General within the Commission also has their own web pages, with regular updates on what they are developing. Centrally the Commission publishes regular updates on expected publication/adoption dates for new initiatives.

Forthcoming Initiatives - Roadmaps and Inception Impact Assessments

56. The European Commission publishes roadmaps or inception impact assessments ( IIAs) to inform stakeholders and citizens about new initiatives as well as about evaluations and Fitness Checks under the REFIT Programme. You can sign up on the website to receive alerts on Consultations and Roadmaps/ IIAs for your interest areas.

57. Roadmaps for new major initiatives describe the problem to be tackled and the objectives to be achieved, explain why EU action is needed and its added value and outline alternative policy options. Roadmaps for evaluations and Fitness Checks specify the scope of the evaluation and the issues to be examined in the context of an evaluation.

58. If an impact assessment is planned, the roadmap is replaced by an Inception Impact Assessment which sets out in greater detail the description of the problem, issues related to subsidiarity, the policy objectives and options as well as the likely impacts of each option. All initiatives likely to have significant economic, environmental or social impacts should undergo impact assessment. If no impact assessment is planned, the relevant roadmap will explain why.

59. All Roadmaps/ IIAs contain information on planned stakeholder consultations and outline when and how stakeholders will have the opportunity to provide input.

60. It is now possible to give feedback on the roadmaps/inception impact assessments: after publication of a roadmap/inception impact assessment anybody can share their views - so do alert your stakeholders if you feel they may be interested. You should note that any feedback received via this portal may be published and taken into account by the Commission services when further developing the policy proposal.

EU Calendar

61. The EU Calendar gives a daily breakdown of forthcoming events and daily news.

EU Weekly Note

62. The SGEUO provides a weekly overview of key activity in Brussels and a look to the week ahead. Contact the SGEUO to sign up to the mailing list.

EU Consultations

63. A Commission consultation is an integral part of policy formation - it's an early opportunity to engage with Commission officials and help shape a proposal. All open and closed consultations can be found at the YourVoice website.

64. An EU consultation can take different forms - it might be a Green Paper (a discussion document intended to stimulate debate and launch a process of consultation, at European level, on a particular topic), a call for views on key elements of an impact assessment, or it might be a call for views on an evaluation or a fitness check.

65. Consultations may ask either open or closed questions, however the format does not need to determine how the Scottish Government may choose to respond to the consultation.

66. A response may take a number of forms, or indeed multiple forms. If in doubt as to the most appropriate, you should contact the SGEUO.

  • The SG position should always be represented in an agreed UK wide response - a letter/paper which fully encompasses all UK administrations' positions. Where there are significant divergences in views and this is not reflected, you may wish to request that a UK Government response be clearly marked as such - and not as a UK response.
  • A slight variation - a separate SG response is prepared but is submitted together with the UK one - as an overall package.
  • A completely separate SG response, ordinarily one that does not contradict the UK response - the UK is the Member State not Scotland - but adds additional detail such as specific Scottish achievements or strengths. However, if presented with a scenario where our fundamental position on an issue is evidently different, a separate SG response, directed by your Minister and non-aligned to the UK Government response, may be required.

67. A completely separate response may simply take the form of a letter from your Minister or your Director which, depending on how the consultation is structured, could be addressing a paper, or answering a specific set of questions.

So should we provide a separate Scottish Government response?

68. This depends on a number of factors, but a good start is asking whether it will add value - will it raise Scottish Government profile in the Commission? Will it highlight a particular aspect of relevance to Scotland that might not be fully covered in the UK response? What view would your Scottish Parliament subject committee take?

69. By being pro-active we can play our part in the formation of EU policy with the ultimate outcome being better policy for Scotland.

70. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but hopefully the guidance below will help you think through the main issues:


71. An obvious one but make sure you know the deadline for responses. Draw up your own schedule by working back from the deadline, incorporating sufficient time to consult and for Ministerial clearance if that is likely to be needed.

Liaison with UK Government

72. In order to decide whether a separate Scottish Government response is appropriate you will need to be aware of what the UK Government is planning. Use your day-to-day contacts, or if you are unsure who will be dealing with the consultation, UK Relations Team or your SGEUO desk officer should be able to help.

73. Having ensured you have fed into the UK response you may decide a separate SG response is also appropriate. As discussed above, submitting a SG response alongside the UK one might be the most appropriate course of action. If you decide on an entirely separate SG response you should keep the UK Government informed and it is good practice to share a copy prior to submission.

74. Likewise it will be important to work closely with the lead UK Department to ensure that they are giving proper consideration to SG views as they prepare their response and that their final version is circulated to our Ministers for formal consideration of the agreed UK position.

Industry/stakeholder consultation

75. It may be appropriate for you to consult with relevant external stakeholders to inform the SG response or to encourage them to consider making their own response to add weight to a common 'Scottish' position. The Commission's consultation process is not limited to governments, but extends to individuals and companies/organisations, although normally submissions from the 28 Member States carry the most weight.

Ministerial Clearance

76. Will the content require Ministerial clearance? This is not always necessary, but is advisable on sensitive issues.

Submitting to the Commission

77. Often the response can be submitted electronically (this can be followed up by a hard copy). However it may be worth considering whether a lead policy officer, Brussels Desk Officer, or even a Minister could deliver the submission in person to the relevant official or Commissioner in the Commission. Face to face contact with the policy makers is always useful.


78. All policy teams should publish the letter or response on their section of the Scottish Government Website ( PDF form is probably best) and pass a final copy to the European and External Relations Committee of the Parliament, relevant subject committee, and also to appropriate stakeholders.

Lobbying from the start

79. Everyone in Brussels is lobbying for or against something. Don't be left out - get ahead of the game.

80. As in the previous sections, clearly identified priorities and interests in EU policy are critical to directing our resources at getting the best from the EU for Scotland. Given how long the policy development process is, it is all the better when you can get in right from the start and begin to shape the direction of travel. The closer you get to the publication of an Initiative the more rigid the framework of options becomes.

81. Throughout this process your SGEUO desk officer can help by understanding your domestic priorities and policies. They can look for risks and opportunities on the horizon and help you engage with these from the first whispers or target specific milestones in the process.

82. All Brussels Institutions can be important targets for this activity - MEPs and other member states will also be lobbying and so influencing their positions can play an important role.

83. The first section of this guidance on Who's Who also covers how best to engage with the Institutions.

Influencing the Commission

84. There are many different ways to influence the Commission. Informal contacts developed by UKRep and SGEUO can gain access to draft documents before they are available officially, and provide important conduits for sharing information and ideas.

85. The Commission often runs workshops to help develop policy. These are an invaluable opportunity to develop relationships with officials, to represent Scottish views and nip unacceptable proposals in the bud.

86. Don't ignore other DGs. If you believe that DG Agri or DG Env are making proposals that are inconsistent with the EU Smarter Regulation run by Sec Gen, then make that point to officials in that unit.

Influencing the Council/Member States

87. Building contacts with other Member States early on will help you to understand their positions and their principal concerns, and identify possible allies to work with (and perhaps use to put forward our views).

88. It's never too early to open these channels and, subject to resources, worth investing time to go to see colleagues in key member states as well as current and forthcoming Presidencies. If Scottish Ministers are attending Councils where other relevant Ministers will be present, then it may be worth considering the value of bilateral meetings where our views on initiatives still in development could be shared - and intelligence on other member states' positions obtained.

Building a Coalition of Interest

Influencing EU decisions requires not only plausible, rational argumentation, but also a broad spectrum of political backing. Both EU co-legislators, the Council and the Parliament, must be addressed to successfully promote Scottish priorities. In the case of the Parliament this requires targeting individual MEPs and their advisors. It is important to consider both the influence that any MEP has, and also the compatibility of their views with your own priorities. Lobbying is therefore not restricted to Scottish MEPs alone. For example, in promoting regionalisation of the Common Fisheries Policy UK, Irish and German MEP members of the Parliamentary Fisheries Committee were targeted. Our lobbying power was greatly enhanced by ensuring that UK colleagues also recognised regionalisation as a UK priority. Targeting NGOs, who have a considerable influence on MEP voting patterns, also added weight to our arguments as we were able to demonstrate to them the potential for regionalisation of fisheries policy to enhance the marine environment.

In the Council, the principles are the same. The most influential Member States are those with the greatest number of votes in Council. Thus it was important to win over large countries like Germany to the idea of regional fisheries management. Initially Germany was concerned that regionalisation of fisheries would create a disproportionate burden on its administration. Over a number of bilateral meetings with German representatives we were able to propose a regional system which would bring benefits without associated burdens. Winning the support of Germany was crucial in ensuring a majority in favour of regionalised fisheries management.

Andrew Brown, Marine Scotland Representative, Scottish Government EU Office

Influencing the Parliament

89. Influencing the European Parliament is just as important as influencing in the Council. The Parliament has the power to make proposals fall so needs to be taken seriously. Indeed, a particularly useful way of getting Scottish ideas into the final text without spending your negotiating capital is to convince influential MEPs to get them included in the EP's opinions.

90. You'll need to understand the dynamics of the Parliament. SGEUO can really help with this and with setting up meetings with sympathetic MEPs.

91. It is essential to make as much use of potentially helpful MEPs (particularly, but not exclusively, Scottish MEPs) as possible. If you can make early contact with key MEPs active in the area, you will be in a position to move quickly later in the negotiations when deals are being made with the EP.

92. Regulators, such as SEPA, can have high credibility with MEPs and could be used to deliver messages through face to face lobbying.

One Scotland

93. Stakeholders and partners can be a very useful aid to inform our position and promote our messages. Interested parties, such as NGOs and industry who have an interest in the proposal will be active in lobbying member states and the Parliament. Their views and the impact of their lobbying should be taken into account in developing a negotiating strategy. It is therefore very important to provide stakeholders good quality information about the proposal.

94. Where their views are consistent with Scottish Government views, they can support a negotiating strategy by reinforcing direct Government lobbying as they often have excellent communication channels, particularly in the European Parliament. Positive stakeholders can be used to persuade more sceptical members.

95. Public sector partners such as SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage, Food Standards Scotland and others may also have views and evidence which could be relevant to the development of a Scottish position and influencing strategy. Early consultation and engagement with these partners is useful.

96. A matrix can be a very effective tool for helping you to determine how to communicate with and use your stakeholders and partners. Use this information to help develop an effective negotiating strategy which takes into account the dynamics of the negotiation: who are our allies? Can we use them to influence others? Who do we need to persuade and what arguments would they be most receptive to?

97. It's crucial to consider opportunities outside formal settings. Every opportunity to influence should be exploited, from informal coffees with relevant officials to participation in stakeholder events. If you can develop personal relationships, it can help later on when you look for compromises. Making our position known to a wider audience will help, even if they are not always sympathetic.

98. And beyond Scotland, pan-European bodies, e.g. Copa Cogeca who represent farming unions and agricultural cooperatives from across Europe, can also carry a lot of weight, sometimes more so than a small group of member states. So think about Scotland based members of these bodies and engaging with them directly.

Local Authorities

99. Where a proposal will confer powers or responsibilities on local government or will have implications for local government, the lead policy officials should consult and engage with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ( COSLA) and other representative bodies at an early stage and consider how their views are taken account of in the development of a Scottish Government position.

100. Lead policy officials should also consider whether the proposals may affect the Scottish islands and rural communities in a particular way and consult with the appropriate bodies as required.


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