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After taking the reins of the European Association of Political Consultants (EAPC) earlier this year, Croatian consultant Marko Rakar is working to further the network of professional European consultants.
C&E Europe spoke with Rakar about his short-term, and long-term, goals for the association and the interest in American campaign expertise overseas.
C&E Europe: Give us some background on the EAPC and the European political consulting community.
Rakar: The EAPC was founded in 1996, and it actually grew out of of the International Association of Political Consultants (IAPC). That, as you know, was designed for people who want to do political democracy work outside the borders of the United States and for non-U.S. consultants. A couple of the European members of IAPC decided to found EAPC to further that connection and work in Europe. EAPC is a fairly small organization, because in Europe there’s such a huge difference in political campaign practices. Political parties are mostly financed from the state or local budgets. European politicians don’t have as much incentive to vote in alignment with their supporters as much as U.S. politicians do. As a result, you have a limited number of political consultants operating in Europe. Campaigns are usually conducted by party members or party volunteers, or people who are professionally attached to the parties.
C&E Europe: So what’s your immediate goal for the EAPC?
Rakar: The first goal is to identify those professionals who are working across Europe and bring them into the EAPC and create that network. We have some gaps in our membership. We know for example that in France there are professional networks for us to build. We want to build and grow even further our membership among professionals in the UK and Germany as well. These professionals do exist and are working on campaigns, but we want folks to see the value in coming together. That’s the main goal.
C&E Europe: What are the challenges to better connecting political consultants across Europe?
Rakar: It’s not easy to be a professional political consultant in Europe. We can freely move from one country to the other, but language can be a barrier, culture is another barrier, and then there’s the issue of religion. So many of these things are different in different parts of Europe. It’s not easy for a British consultant to come in and work in France or Hungary, for example. So we need to connect all these people and bring them closer to the public affairs sector in general. I believe that consultants can bring a lot of value to public affairs everywhere – from the European Commission to other institutions throughout Europe, and private companies as well. If you own a Chocolate factory in Italy and want to expand your business throughout Europe, you’ll have a public affairs office of some kind and political consultants with their insight, contacts and networks can be very valuable there.
C&E Europe: Where is the most potential for European-based consultants to expand their businesses?
Rakar: We have to make some of the political parties see that they can’t do all of the work on their own, or that it would be very beneficial to bring in consultants with different expertise. A lot of parties do this already for marketing tasks and sometimes for public relations, but when it comes to the other core components of the campaign, most parties think they need to do it on their own. We want to provide the tools to bring these communities together so people can see that there is a lot more to offer their voters and their constituencies if they enlist the help of outside professionals.
C&E Europe: Talk about the tactics you’re seeing in use in Europe. Is there a general demand for the American style of campaigning?
Rakar: There is a high level of wishful thinking about it. Everyone would like to have an Obama-like campaign in their own country, but there are obviously limits. First of all, the privacy laws are stricter in Europe, as you know. It’s partially a question of regulation and partially a question of political culture. The other major difference between Europe and the U.S. is the fundraising culture. In Europe, parties don’t rely on the fundraising machine the way candidates in the U.S. do so there isn’t as much incentive to raise money. Then you have some other things like polling where I believe we can learn a lot from U.S. pollsters. Also the use of psychology and message testing and better speechwriting—all of these elements can be used in Europe. There is much to learn from U.S. consultants and the desire to learn it.
C&E Europe: What has been the reaction to the U.S. presidential election among campaign professionals in Europe?
Rakar: I would start by saying that if I was an American consultant, I would be working on the liberal side of the spectrum, so I come more from that perspective. Many people in Europe listen to Donald Trump and what they hear is either confusing or threatening. Some of the messages we hear are very similar to the right wing, populist politicians in Europe. We have very strong right wing parties in Hungary, for example. And we’ve seen their policies endangering democratic processes there. We have seen similar things in Poland. So there are certainly some concerns if we look at the Eastern border of the European Union.
Marko Rakar is the president of the European Association of Political Consultants and the CEO of MRAK Services, a campaign strategy and public affairs firm based in Croatia.