Public Affairs in the Time of COVID-19: Navigating a New Reality
When the news of first cases of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China hit the media in late November 2019, few could have imagined that in just over four months almost all of Europe would be in lockdown with people being ordered to stay at home and economic activity almost completely frozen.
IMPACT ON EU PUBLIC AFFAIRS
As Covid-19 spreads across Europe, bringing with it devastating human loss, European governments put the lives and safety of their citizens first by adopting restrictive measures in an effort to contain the pandemic.
In Brussels, the European institutions followed suit, with the European Parliament slowly reducing its activities from the beginning of March. Soon after, all European institutions instructed their employees to stay home. Life and doing business in Brussels changed overnight. Flagship policy priorities such as the European Green Deal, the Industrial Strategy, the Circular Economy Action Plan and the wider digital package took a back seat to the need for an EU-wide effort to tackle the public health threat and economic fallout from Covid-19. The policy agenda narrowed. Meetings and events were postponed or cancelled.
While it is hard to say when regular business activities will return, what is clear is that even once we have successfully emerged from the Covid-19 health crisis, the social and economic impact will linger for a long time, bringing with it new priorities and ideas forward.
As the situation progresses, European institutions are finding ways to adapt: the Council changed its rule of procedure to allow for decisions to be made via written procedure. The European Parliament adjusted its procedures to enable remote voting in the plenary. Across all the institutions, videoconferencing replaced meetings in person.
Public health remains a top priority, and a few initiatives, e.g. the consultation on the Digital Single Act or GDPR review, have already been postponed.
However, with time the institutional agenda will try to find its way back to a changed reality. Already today, there are voices arguing in favor of moving forward with the European Green Deal and putting it at the center of the EU’s economic recovery.
As we ease into this new reality, the European Public Affairs community is trying to support its business objectives while finding new ways of working and communicating on public policies. Some trends become progressively evident as the unprecedented lockdown advances.
CRISES CATALYZE CHANGE
The greatest social changes emerge from global crises. The current situation could have the potential to transform the way Public Affairs is approached in Brussels and elsewhere.
As Public Affairs professionals, we need to be open to changing the way we communicate not just with decision and policy makers but with society as a whole. We need to challenge ourselves and go beyond the established practices and methods we have relied on so far.
While in-person contact will remain important – and we will all be craving it after a long lockdown period – we will see remote stakeholder meetings, virtual conferences and events, endure well beyond the lockdown and most likely become the norm.
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