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Joost Mulder on why 2020 is a decisive year for the Commission

Portrait photo of Joost Mulder

What’s the biggest priority facing EU Public Affairs this September?

Now is the time to make sure your issues are considered a priority for the Commission in this mandate. With all the focus on Covid-19, it’s easy to forget that 2020 is also the first full year for the new Commission, and that major plans for the coming years will be laid out in the coming months.  In June 2020, I ran a survey amongst PA professionals which confirmed that stakeholders in “sexy” policy areas such as sustainability, digital economy and agriculture have no problem getting their voice heard. The Commission is committed to implement its work streams on Green Deal, Farm to Fork, Digital Strategy and Sustainable Finance. There might be small delays, but the big chunk of legislative work for this mandate is under way.

Which EU leader has had the best 2020 so far?

It can only be Angela Merkel, who scored major victories this year: rebooting the Franco-German axis post-Brexit, boosting Germany’s goodwill in bridging the North-South divide on the budget, showing solidarity in handling Covid-19 patients while still managing to field off domestic opposition. Oh, and running a virtual Presidency committed to maintain its policy and outreach deliverables in the remainder of the year.

If you were giving gold stars, where would you post them?

To the dozens of hard working civil society advocates I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, training and coaching over the last decade, most of whom are working for very modest salaries and with limited resources, to make the world a better place for us all.

Tell us one surprising fact…

I only learned the public affairs trade when I was supposed to already be good at it, when I joined Houston Consulting in 2007. It’s not that I was clueless about what all those lobbyists were doing in my MEP’s office in the three years before, it’s just that moving to consulting helped me realise how limited your overview is when you are sitting inside one of the EU institutions. As the late John Houston put it: every person you speak to will give you one piece of a big puzzle, but your client wants to see the whole puzzle, so go back to your desk now and get more pieces!

What is the survey you would like to conduct?

I’d like to ask MEPs how many people they have in their close circle to use as a sounding board for important political decisions. I’m convinced its a single-digit number for most of them, which would confirm how important it is to build credibility and trust.

What are you reading?

Vivien Schmidt, Europe’s Crisis of Legitimacy. I admit I am biased as I participated in an H2020 project with her. The intellectual framework of input, output and throughout legitimacy of policy-making has helped me a lot to better understand what drives long-term political processes in the EU, such as populism, nationalism and especially with Covid-19, multilateralism.

Linked In or Twitter for you?

Twitter is still best for engaging with politicians, despite predictions that all MEPs would move to Insta and TikTok. Instant visibility when you mention them, most will like and retweet.

Who do you follow?

I follow a lot of journalists. The second big lesson John Houston taught me is that as a consultant, you are writing tomorrow’s newspaper for your clients. Lobbyists and journalists have very similar objectives: get the full picture and explain it in a clear, concise way. It’s just the audience that differs. Jean Comte at Contexte (@JeanComte) and Christoph Schmidt at Trouw (@trouwschmidt) are excellent at making complex issues easy to understand. For fun, DG MEME (@meme_ec).

Joost Mulder is a contributing author to How the EU Institutions Work: Your handbook and guide to EU decision-making

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