I started my public affairs career in Brussels, working first in a consultancy (APCO Worldwide), then heading the Brussels office of a trade association representing large French businesses (AFEP), and finally making it to London within Eurostar.
What academic/professional qualifications do you have?
Political science / EU studies
How did you get into public affairs? What was your first job and what did you learn most from this role?
I got into this line of work a bit by chance really! In my first Master’s, while I was doing an internship in an EU agency, one of the teachers was a PA professional himself. I listened to him, got really interested in it and started researching opportunities. After my studies, I was lucky enough to join APCO for an internship, and then got taken on. I certainly learnt a lot during my time there: client work, tight deadlines, researching subjects and gathering intelligence, working across different political systems and cultures.
What does your current role entail on a day to day basis?
It really is a very varied role, which is also why I enjoy it so much. Eurostar is operating in three different countries, with more to come soon, and as such we need to keep an eye on all decision-makers or civil society organisations that might have an impact - positive or negative - on our business. Depending on the day, I might therefore be working on very different issues, whether it’s discussing EU directives in the European Parliament, keeping in touch with elected officials of the cities we serve, sitting down with civil servants in France or the UK to discuss EU implementation measures or a new bill going through the Commons or the Assemblée Nationale, or working with my colleagues in different departments to make sure our company milestones are adequately and consistently communicated to our external stakeholders.
In your Eurostar role, how is your time split between EU and UK lobbying work?
In my role, in addition to the EU and UK dimension, there is also a French dimension. It all depends on the week, but it’s probably fair to say that I spend around 40% of my time working on EU issues, with the rest of my time being split between the other markets.
As an experienced lobbyist and lecturer in EU public affairs, what are the most valuable skills and qualities to develop?
I would probably start with a cliché: know your facts: EU Brussels is a place in which expertise is valued, and you won’t get very far if you only play pure politics with no substance to back up your arguments.
The second bit is a more personal one: know your place! As a lobbyist, you’re lucky enough to discuss with many decision-makers, and maybe influence them. But at the end of the day, even if you think you know the topic better, you’re not the one taking the decision, this lies with elected politicians or civil servants, and that’s the way it should be. I’ve seen too many cases of lobbyists seemingly forgetting this simple but important fact.
More generally, I think you need to be interested in your topic, but open to other interests and points of views. You never know what might be coming up next, and being able to join the dots between different policy areas is a key skill in that field.
How has Brussels lobbying changed over the last 10 years?
It has undoubtedly become more professional over the years, and is attracting a lot of very talented young graduates. The years of companies sending someone they didn’t want any more to Brussels are over, and a lot of the people I’ve met over the years are in Brussels because they were good at what they did, not because someone wanted to get rid of them.
You’ve worked in a consultancy, trade association and corporate: what are the greatest differences between each?
I’ve enjoyed all of them, for very different reasons.
- In consultancies, I think you learn how to quickly and efficiently research issues, and how to think strategically. You also learn a lot about what it means to have clients, in terms of understanding their needs and finding the right balance between challenging them and accompanying them.
- In trade associations, the main difficulty is accommodating a sometimes very varied membership without losing your ability to react and influence institutions. Being on top of issues and proving your added value is key in that respect.
- Working in-house has also been an eye-opener: unlike trade associations or consultancies, in which most of the time you work with people who understand the overall value of PA, a lot of your time must be spent on listening to internal colleagues to understand their needs, and making sure they understand that you’re there to help them, not to annoy them. But if you’re successful in doing this, then you are rewarded with a thorough understanding of the ins and outs of a business.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved in?
I still have a fond spot for my first real lobbying campaign, which was on contact lenses. It was a rather obscure topic in a hostile political environment, but the client was great and I learnt a lot. I might not go as far as saying it made me proud though.
What do you enjoy about working in European public affairs?
The diversity of the work, the intellectual challenge and the very varied mix of skills you need to use to do your job. There isn’t one boring day (well, nearly never).
What’s been the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
That was a long time ago while I was still an undergraduate student: “although they might mean a lot to you when you study, don’t think diplomas will either help you or hinder you. To a large extent, it’s about who you are”. I think that’s also valid when it comes to professional experience: however well known the company you’ve worked in might be, in the end, a prospective employer will look at who you are rather than where you’ve worked. There’s always some luck involved, but if you’re passionate about your work, I truly believe things mostly turn out right.
What’s your prediction for the European Parliament Election result in May?
Strong showing of Eurosceptic parties in FR, UK and NL, resulting in the main political parties (socialists and conservatives) collaborating even more together to achieve majorities.
Personally, I think this is bad news for anyone interested in getting European citizens more interested in EU politics, as it will signal a return to a “prehistoric” state of EU politics: EU-supporters vs EU-opponents, rather than a normal left of centre vs right of centre debate. I’m not very optimistic as you can tell…
|Which politician, past or present, would you like to be stuck in a lift with? What issues would you raise?||Pierre-Eliott Trudeau, former Canadian Prime Minister, to discuss the challenges of bringing multi-cultural societies together around a common project.|
|LinkedIN or Twitter?||I’m a rather passive user of both I have to confess…|
|Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less||An enthusiastic yet realistic European, political geek, who is lucky enough to get paid for looking into issues he’s really interested in.|
|What’s your Media diet?||Lots of newspapers, online or hard copy, whenever I can. Avid podcaster of radio programmes from all countries I work in. Big blog enthusiast (all put together on Feedly). I don‘t have that much time left for TV I fear...|
|Favourite Film||I’ll go for a TV series: the thick of it.|
|Guilty pleasure||Comics (bande dessinée): that’s a long-lasting consequence of my time in Belgium, and a very heavy one to move around between cities as I found out when moving to London…|