Manifestos – everybody has one, but do they have a real impact? 

There are two kinds of manifestos to pay attention to in the upcoming elections for the European Parliament those coming from the political groups setting the political goals and aims across parties and Member States – and those made by NGOs and business and trade associations. In this opinion piece, we will look at the latter.  Stay tuned – before the elections, we will also look at the political groups’ aims and wishes for the next term. 

In short, a manifesto presents and promotes the political ideas and goals that the authoring association presents. Writing a manifesto is a classical grip in the lobby toolbox and is widely used by most associations in Brussels. There are a lot of differences in length and style. It is also a lobby tool used by NGOs and business associations. However, more often in the case of NGOs, they are linked to a pledge, which is rarely the case for a trade or a business association.  

What can a manifesto do? 

All the MEP candidates get a lot of manifestos. But not all of them are read and/or studied in detail. So why do we still do them? There are both external and internal reasons for that, which we will describe in more detail below. 

A manifesto is rarely very detailed in terms of a specific topic – it gives a more general view of who the association is and what topics they find interesting. This is also why a manifesto is a good start for a dialogue with a politician but can never stand alone.  

There can be several reasons for sending a manifesto. It can be that you want the politicians to see two sides of the same case – e.g. you know that your opponent has been sending a manifesto. It can be that you know that your sector or issue will be discussed so you want them to know your association when they enter Brussels and thereby have an easier start to the specific dialogue. But don’t be fooled, a manifesto will not make you change politics at the EU level. 

When we advise clients on manifestos, we always suggest making them one or two pages long. It is not easy for EU experts to be short and concise – as we know the devil is sometimes in the nerdy detail, but when it comes to manifestos, you need to be short. Most politicians will not read 20 pages in a busy election campaign unless it is their favourite topic and one that they for sure will invest time in after the elections. We believe that longer manifestos are mostly for internal purposes and are more likely to guide your members on the political goals of the association.  

We have also seen NGOs send longer manifestos followed by a pledge where they ask the MEP candidate to sign and tick political priorities. Then they can use it both to make public claims in the media and follow up with the candidate when elected on the specific pledge to remember the MEP what he/she signed. 

External use of a manifesto 

You know that your issue will be on the agenda at the next parliamentary term. You want to get a head start and want to make sure that the elected MEPs know what the view of your association is. That is something a manifesto can be used for. Again, it is important to keep it short, and follow up after the elections with e.g. a bilateral meeting where you can explain further to those MEPs that are then in the end going to deal with your issue. It is always good to mention the country/region or local community that the MEP candidate represents and have relation to and even if the typical manifesto is the same that is sent to a lot of candidates, we would always recommend targeting it where possible. If not in the general manifesto, then in the cover letter when you send it out. Also, consider if language plays a role with the candidates, you are targeting and decide on translation.  

As described earlier, if you put something in either your mail or your manifesto that the MEP candidate will need to react on this is a way to start an early dialogue. It can be, as we described for the NGOs, a pledge, but it could also be a visit to a company to see how things work in practice.  That way you have something to follow up with – a concrete question or proposal you can refer to. 

Internal use of a manifesto 

In case you are a business association representing several associations/companies in many different countries a manifesto can be a way to gather members around the same message and guide political discussions at the national level. We all know that even inside an association opinion can differ from country to country – and sometimes that makes it harder to set out a goal for an association in Brussels that is expected to speak with one voice.  

A manifesto for an association is, in most cases, drafted through a process of consultation and discussion with the members. So, it is important here that everybody can see themselves in a manifesto.  

Who to aim for? 

You can, if your topic is broad, choose a broad list of candidates. Especially if you are an association with national members you can try to make a national angle on your European topic and try to get help from the national associations to send out the manifesto to both candidates and current MEPs running again. Do try and select a bit – there is no need to send it to all candidates. You can select a bit in terms of parties and politicians, in order to send it to those that it is most relevant for. Also, the recommendation is to address the candidates in their local language – even if the manifesto is not translated a good cover email is helpful in the candidates’ language. Don’t use Google Translate – then it is better to send it in English.  

If your topic is more specific and you have good predictions on who will be elected, then you can also target your communication. Only send the manifesto to the candidates you know are interested in entering the relevant committees and are likely to be elected. It is hard to be 100 percent correct with this, but you can target it to a large extent. At Lykke Advice we keep close track of candidates from all EU Member States and who is likely to be elected. We use this list to help advise our clients to achieve more influence with e.g. manifestos.  

Conclusion on manifestos versus political influence 

First, you must decide if you do this mainly for internal or external purposes. You should have a clear view of your target group of candidates, and you should follow up after the elections with specific asks. A manifesto is good, but it doesn’t make the changes you need. 

For individual SMEs, which are the companies Lykke Advice typically works with, a manifesto makes little sense. It is much better to see if you can influence one of the umbrella associations’ manifestos, take part as a speaker in one of their events about the elections and then most importantly meet the MEPs directly in bilateral meetings after the elections.  

We are happy to help and guide you in the upcoming elections. After all, what matters is how to get into contact with the right MEP to explain your case and issue. You can contact us directly and get specific advice, but you can also attend our event on 16th April where we will discuss some of the tools you can use- after the elections and to get more influence. See more about the event here and don’t forget to sign up as seats are limited.  


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