A Biker's Guide to EU Lobbying
Legislation and policy affecting UK motorcycle riders comes from all sorts of places. For example, potholes tend to be an issue dealt with by local councils. Wheel sizes and fitments tend to be ultimately dealt with by international standards bodies. MoT rules are dealt with, at the moment, by the UK government.
Wherever the rules and decisions affecting motorcyclists are made, the British Motorcyclists Federation tries to either be there directly or to engage constructively with those that are. As a UK-based organisation, this is mostly done by working with the UK government.
However, a great deal of legislation comes from the European Union and it concerns a large number of areas which are relevant for motorcyclists. This ranges from how we get our licences to how the bikes we buy work. Essentially, this is done to allow the free movement of goods and people around the EU (i.e. you can buy the same goods all over the EU and can travel and work in different states without filling in too much paperwork), but the legislation often has other effects beyond this - sometimes deliberately and sometimes by accident.
There are three parts to the European Union making two different types of law. All of this is relevant, so pay attention!
The three parts are:
- The European Commission, the bureaucracy and civil service of the EU
- The European Parliament, where MEPs elected by citizens of the member states sit and deliberate
- The Council of the European Union (not to be confused with the Council of Europe which is nothing to do with the EU, or the European Council which is, but doesn’t make any laws), where reps of the member governments meet and discuss the legislative process
A new law begins with the Commission proposing a text for a law and ends with both the Parliament and the Council agreeing to it and it going in the Official Journal. There are stages in between, as in the UK, with committees and the like, but essentially the civil servants write the rules and the representatives of the states and the representatives of the people debate and tweak them until they are happy with them or reject them completely.
No law can be made without these three parts agreeing.
The two different types of legislation are:
- Directives which order member governments to enact laws meeting a certain criteria
- Regulations which become law immediately and require member governments to do nothing.
The essential difference is that directives usually require some lobbying at national level as well after they’ve been approved by the EU to ensure something is workable.
Who lobbies whom?
There are many different people and institutions that need lobbying in the EU and many different people and institutions that do it.
There is the Federation of European Motorcyclists Associations (FEMA). FEMA is composed of a number of different motorcycle associations across Europe and employs a number of staff to work exclusively on lobbying the EU and related stakeholders and parties within Brussels.
There is the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM). This is the international governing body for motorcycle sport and the global advocate for motorcycling. The FIM also has staff working in Brussels on EU legislation.
Finally, the BMF itself sends people to Brussels to attend meetings with MEPs and others as well as working with the UK government in developing its own position on proposed legislation.
Federation of European Motorcyclists Associations
FEMA is based in Brussels. This means that formal and informal meetings with policy makers and other stakeholders can be attended with ease. This in turn means that relationships can be developed and the organisation can gain a level of respect within the EU institutions. This is crucial for the message from riders to have any reach or power.
Because of FEMA’s permanence in Brussels, it has generally had a good working relationship with the European Commission. The downside of this relationship is that they have regularly and wholly unfairly been criticised for being ‘too cosy with the EU’. However, the reality is that this relationship has meant that many of the unpopular measures the Commission has suggested have never seen the light of day.
Another key function of FEMA is its ability to coordinate the lobbying work of members by developing a common line on issues that arise and by organising events. Naturally, most of the lobbying of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union is done by FEMA’s member organisations as voters tend to have more weight. However, without FEMA’s work organising events such as the nearly annual MEP ride and the development of position papers, this would be significantly harder.
The BMF has been a key member of FEMA since its creation in a merger 15 years ago and a key player and long-term member in both its constituent parts before that. We attend the committee meetings and have contributed as board members as well. Beyond this, we help develop position papers and discuss political issues with FEMA staff and other members on a daily basis between meetings.
As members, we also help fund FEMA through a substantial membership fee of around €10-15,000 per year, although the cash flow problems the BMF faced in 2010 and 2011 have meant we are in arrears which we are currently paying off. As a result of the arrears, we were unable to vote on the handful of votes at committee meetings in 2012. For the most part, votes were won with large majorities so there was little detriment in this case, although obviously we would like to get this rectified before it becomes critical.
Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme
The FIM is based in Geneva, but has staff in Brussels and the UK working on EU issues. It is mostly funded through its commercial sporting contracts and through competition licences and permits as well as a smaller contribution from affiliated organisations.
Like most governing bodies, such as FIFA, the FIM has a single member representing each country. The BMF cannot currently be directly represented at the FIM as the FIM only recognises one member body from each country (in the UK’s case, the Auto Cycle Union), but the BMF is heavily involved with the work of the FIM on road riding and sends two people to attend meetings on these issues on the ACU’s behalf (the ACU sends their own delegates for the sport-related meetings). Therefore, the BMF’s financial commitment only extends to meeting expenses.
Being the recognised international sports body for motorcycling, the FIM’s voice has a great deal of weight on legislative issues to do with motorcycling generally. Although they have staff in the UK and Brussels, their input on EU issues has to be a little diluted as they also have to cover the whole world with the UN and other bodies.
For example, while individual members of the FIM might be very keen on helmet use on the road, the US member famously has no such firm position and therefore the FIM’s position has to remain flexible to reflect its members. Forming a firm lobbying position that covers the whole world is a challenge for many issues, as you’d expect; however, the FIM does a brilliant job, considering that it has to cover countries as different as Saudi Arabia, Spain and Sweden - and that's just the ones that start with an S.
The BMF contributes to the FIM’s work by sending expert members for the Commission for Public Affairs and the Commission for Touring and Leisure. We also contribute by making staff and volunteers available to help represent the FIM and undertake some of its work where needed. However, our main contribution is by providing expertise and advice to the work of the FIM through the committee structure.
British Motorcyclists Federation
As a membership organisation, the BMF also directly represents itself at EU level. Lobbying is not simply about approaching the decision makers directly, but also working with others in the same field to ensure a common position.
Therefore, the BMF goes to not only FEMA and FIM meetings, but meetings with MEPs, conferences where other decision-makers are, meetings with the motorcycle industry and lots of other places where the voice of the motorcyclist needs to be heard. Because the BMF is a UK-based membership organisation, we naturally have most clout with UK MEPs and the UK government representatives, all of whom are either elected or appointed to represent UK subjects. Therefore, we tend to concentrate our efforts in these areas.
Working with the UK government on developing positions at EU level is also crucial, although this is usually done in meeting rooms in Westminster rather than in Brussels... thankfully!
So who lobbies who, then?
If we return to the list above, the European Commission is mostly lobbied on behalf of motorcyclists by FEMA and the FIM. The members of the European Parliament are lobbied by a combination of FEMA and the FIM directly as well as national representatives coordinated through FEMA and the FIM. The members of the Council of the European Union are mostly lobbied by their national representatives (the BMF, in the UK’s case), usually coordinated through FEMA and the FIM but sometimes on their own initiative.
Case study: Type Approval
As you can see, the work involved in EU level lobbying is quite complicated and involves a variety of different players so, as you’d expect, very few people fully understand what goes into it or how it works in practice. The best way to explain is to give a concrete example.
Some years ago, the European Commission discussed the development of a new regulation to change type approval for motorcycles. This was discussed internally within FEMA (at length) and also by FEMA with the FIM and ACEM, the manufacturers’ association. Eventually, a common position in some areas was developed and a response to some suggestions from the Commission was given by FEMA, the FIM, ACEM and individual FEMA members directly - including the BMF.
At this early stage, letters were sent by BMF members to MEPs to highlight some of the unacceptable ideas the Commission was suggesting, like compulsory ABS and 100bhp limits. Meetings continued between the Commission, the FIM, EMA and ACEM, and eventually a formal proposal was produced by the Commission. This was OK for the most part, and it accepted many of the suggestions and comments from motorcyclists’ representatives such as a durability requirement and fuel consumption information, but it still needed some substantial work in other areas.
FEMA and FEMA members, such as the BMF, began lobbying the MEPs working on the proposal and highlighted the areas that needed work. The UK government met with motorcycle organisations, including the BMF, to discuss how to develop its own response to the proposal. There was a great deal of argument and confusion over the details of the proposals and the BMF met key MEPs to ensure that the best deal was accepted. The UK government position was quite similar to our own, so less work was needed there.
Eventually, a deal was reached between the Parliament and the Council and the legislation passed in a reasonably acceptable form. However, the lobbying work continues as FEMA, the FIM and ACEM continue meeting with the Commission to discuss the detail of the delegated acts arising from the regulation.
That sounds like a lot of work!
The BMF is here to promote, protect and pursue motorcycling. It is our duty to our members to go to the people making the decisions affecting motorcyclists and to convince them to work in motorcycling’s best interest.
This takes time, expert knowledge and good timing. To achieve this, we need to employ staff and join other organisations that also employ staff. These employees read and write lots of emails, chat on Skype, write lots of documents and articles and attend lots of meetings.
All of this costs money: an overnight trip to Brussels, for example, is over £250 plus staff time for a staff member based in London. The BMF is mostly funded through membership fees and all of that income goes towards lobbying, running the organisation and keeping members and the public informed.
If we had more money, we could do more work and become an even more effective voice for motorcyclists in the UK and abroad.
Being a member of the BMF is the best way to make sure that happens. Read about the benefits of joining here.
For more about the BMF in the EU, visit Morten Hansen: Norway, motorcycles and the EU.
Image credits: Image right, Triumph Thruxton Wikikensei, available here under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence. Top image, European Flag, cropped to size, author fdecomite, available here under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Image right, European Parliment, author jeffowenphotos, available here under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Brussells in Europe By Ssolbergj [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.