CCL UK volunteer Peter reports from the CCL EU February lobbying days:
Lobbying. That’s for the professionals in suits, right? Regular citizens write letters and perhaps, if they are lucky, meet their MP?
After two days of lobbying Members of the European Parliament (MEP) in Brussels I can now say: Not quite so. Lobbying MEPs as a volunteer is possible and a natural thing to do. Whilst it is intimidating and exhausting, it is also a great experience, involves close team work, makes a real difference, and is appreciated by MEPs. I found it very satisfying and empowering.
In line with the European Citizens’ Initiative on Climate Income, our group of volunteers from Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) across Europe met in Brussels from 18th to 20th February to talk about the Carbon Fee & Dividend (climate income) policy to MEPs from a range of parties and countries.
How does lobbying in parliament work?
There is a lot of preparation to do. Logistics, of course, but more importantly scheduling the meetings. We first identified the MEPs we wanted to meet with and requested a meeting by email. “Great, what time would suit you?” – this is of course not the reply we got. (Would you commit 30 min of your time based on one email request?) We thus followed up with phone calls and sent more material. This way, step by step, we filled up our days with meetings.
Training & background information
Want to convince your friend of your favourite destination for the next joint holiday? This works well if you know them, their taste, and their financial constraints – and if you trust each other. On training day, we learned more about how the EU works and the interplay of institutions. We also practised how to have open-ended discussions based on trust. In addition, volunteers across Europe and among ourselves gathered information about the MEPs from their parliamentary website, news websites, and social media. (Thanks for all the remote support!)
Meeting MEPS and their assistants
Security, accreditation – and you’re in parliament! It is a truly inspiring building, buzzing with people from all over the continent. Meetings took place in many parts of the building; in the café, in MEPs offices, and in larger meeting rooms. We met MEPs and their assistants, sometimes the assistants and advisors only. Advisor sounds like second choice? Because there are so many topics MEPs need to be informed upon, advisors play a key role and talking to them is as valuable as talking to the representatives themselves. While naturally all fired up to talk about our favourite policy, the most important part of the meeting was to listen and to clarify. We would like our concerns to be heard, and so would the representatives. As a consequence of this, we learned a lot about the economic and political constraints they have to balance. Between meetings, we debriefed and reflected asking ourselves: How can we work better as a team? How do explain the dividend component better? How to make best use of our individual skills and strengths?
The social and geeky side of lobbying
All the pent-up excitement and experiences were shared over dinner. And what is more fun than geeking out about the border carbon adjustment over appetizers? (OK, this might be subjective.)
Following up and planning the next event
Next up: Consolidating notes, sending follow-up material, and strategising about when and where to meet all the people we were recommended to talk to. Maybe with help of CCL volunteers who have never lobbied before?
Lobbying, this is what professionals in suits do. But it is also what volunteer citizens do. Lobbying by itself is not underhand or unwelcome, it is a key component of the democratic process; for CCL it is one lever to build political will for an impactful climate solution.