As a reader of POLITICO, you’ve probably noticed all the coverage devoted to lobbying — to the Commission staff who act as gatekeepers to the powerful, the lobbyists who love them, and of course to the Transparency Register, the treasure-trove of data that enables all this reporting.
There are good reasons for this. Brussels has been one of the most heavily lobbied cities in the world ever since the European communities were created, but how often do you see the trans-European business groups, or even someone like Martin Selmayr, head of cabinet of the president of the European Commission, mentioned so much in the mainstream media?
Yet there’s something I’m not sure about here.
You can count up meetings, but few things are as heterogeneous as meetings: A one-to-one with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is worth a lot more than a round-table with someone from DG Education & Culture. Also, it would be very interesting indeed to know more about the structure of Brussels lobbying. Which PR companies are the most effective at getting their clients into contact with key politicians?
Which staffers are gatekeepers, and which are flak-catchers? (The former are those who are empowered to let people into the inner sanctum, the latter those whose purpose is to foil or frustrate any deeper entry.)
Fortunately, there’s an app for that. If not an app, at least a software library. Los Alamos created, some years ago, an open-source library for social network analysis in the Python programming language, NetworkX. Why the makers of the Bomb were interested can perhaps be inferred from the fact the first release was in January 2008, deep into the Global War on Terrorism.
A few years ago, the U.K. government began releasing some lobbying information. I thought I’d try pushing that through some of NetworkX’s algorithms. I decided to treat one-on-ones as the ideal type of a meeting, and reduce the weighting for each additional participant. I also applied weightings for the formal rank of the minister or official involved and their department, working from the prime minister down to parliamentary under-secretaries in the Wales Office.
I developed a metric to identify gatekeepers, who increase your influence, and flak-catchers who reduce it. I tested the GREEDY FRAGILE algorithm developed by West Point for drone targeting decisions, which measures how much an individual participant in a network makes it more or less centralized. The results were fascinating.
On this quality-adjusted basis, the most important gatekeepers in British politics in 2010 and 2011 were the government ministers involved in the Adam Werritty scandal — to put it another way, my machine had successfully detected a secret network of influence. Also, Lord (Jonathan) Hill was the fourth-best gatekeeper outside that group, and he got to be a European Commissioner for reasons European Parliament President Martin Schulz couldn’t guess but probably had to do with Hill being a lobbyist by trade. The biggest lobbies in the U.K. were Barclays, BAE Systems, the CBI, and the TUC. The worst possible minister to lobby was Andrew Stunell, who reduced your influence by 80 percent.
And as for the drone-targeting score? In the spring of 2011, Rupert Murdoch’s interests were feverishly lobbying for the right to take full control of BSkyB. It wasn’t yet clear that the epic phone-hacking scandal was going to explode and derail the whole scheme. In April and May of that year, Department of Culture, Media, and Sport staffer Sue Beeby was both the biggest gatekeeper in the whole system and also one of the biggest sources of its centralization, with a whacking -7.9 GREEDY_FRAGILE score.
Her colleague, Adam Smith, who was forced to resign as a result, also recorded sky-high gatekeepership and centrality. Somehow, though, it was Adam, not Sue, who hit the headlines. Reducing these things to numbers can be a great way of caging one’s own biases.
But we could do so much more with the Brussels data.
Click Here: Newcastle United Shop
First of all, it gets published more frequently. Second, the register of lobbyists includes the clients they represent, so we can look at the role of intermediaries like lobbyists and PR people, just by modeling a meeting as links from the clients, to the lobbyist, to any staffer involved, and eventually to the target commissioner (the technical term for such a structure is a star). Wouldn’t everyone love to know how they measured up?
Before we can do that, though, I need to ask you, dear readers, a question.
In the British project, I assigned weightings a priori to the departments and to the various kinds of officials involved. In this one, I’m asking you to rank each DG in this form. Call it a crowdsourcing exercise.
Hopefully, with your response, I’ll be back soon with preliminary results.
Alex Harrowell blogs at The Yorkshire Ranter and Fistful of Euros.