The UK government has announced that from September 1, UK officials will no longer attend EU meetings unless they are of significant national interest. With this begins the withdrawal of the UK’s seat at the EU table.
When Brexit finally happens on October 31, that seat will be removed altogether. And British companies, associations, NGOs and local government will lose their natural advocates in the EU decision making process – namely, the UK civil servants and MEPs who up to now have sat at the table to debate issues, table amendments and vote for or against new laws.
Yet post Brexit, EU rules will continue to impact considerably on UK organizations. The EU is home to 450 million people. British companies and organizations wishing to interact with them will still need to comply with EU laws, standards and regulations after Brexit.
Further, EU regulatory standards are exported around the world through the EU’s Free Trade Agreements. Often, EU rules become global standards – such as in chemicals (REACH), data (GDPR), food safety, fiscal transparency and environmental standards. Given the EU ambition to lead the world in responsible regulation, particularly in the field of new technology, this trend looks set to continue.
Even in the UK, the government is likely to seek close alignment with EU rules to oil the wheels of frictionless trade, diverging only where it might give UK business a competitive advantage globally.
In short, the risk of the UK becoming a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker after Brexit extends to UK industry and NGOs too. So how can UK organizations continue to have a voice in the making of EU rules?
It will be a little harder, but it is not impossible. Four principles are worth remembering.
- Knowledge: Take time to understand how the EU decision making process works, so that you enter into dialogue with the main actors and influencers and deliver messages at the right time and in the right way. Seek advice and assistance early.
- Outreach: Make friends before you need them. You will have to count on other Member States to espouse and defend your views. Keep your eyes and ears open, understand competing agenda, be engaged.
- Relevant messaging: Why should the EU be interested in the future of your organization? What do you contribute to the EU? Key points might be jobs, investment, technology, infrastructure, innovation, skills and know how. Document these points and back them up with evidence.
- Collaboration: There will be many EU based companies and organizations that share your interests and concerns. Is there an effective trade organization with a mission that mirrors your goals which you can join? Or can you seek out natural allies from your European counterparts and build a bespoke coalition with them to pursue shared aims together?
The EU institutions are among the most transparent and accessible government outfits in the world and very open to ‘third country’ dialogue. With knowledge, outreach, relevant messaging and collaboration, UK companies can continue to have their say in Brussels, even as the UK exits.
The H+K Brexit team consists of Simon Whitehead in London, Thomas Wimmer in Berlin, and Thomas Tindemans and Emma Pike in Brussels.