In a recent interview, a French official working at EU level expressed concerns about decreasing French capabilities to influence Brussels and called for a completely renewed influence strategy. “L’influence précède l’action” – “Influence precedes action,” he said.

Influence capabilities mean the ability to weigh in on how decisions are taken, to shape in a very subtle way the opinion of other stakeholders, and this is the goal not just of European member states but of all other stakeholders.

For the French this means not only having the right people at the right place among the European Institutions but also being able to leverage the different layers of the French community present in Brussels, working both for private and public bodies.

Of course, logic and a detailed and rational argument remain the main tools to support any position, but it would also be naïve to believe that the decision making process is driven by pure rationality. As with any human activity, it’s also about interactions: the amount of resources and time you will dedicate in order to build your network and enhance these interactions in the best possible way.

The capacity to convince comes not just with logic and rational argument, but also because you’ve set up a network that will provide you with easier access to the most relevant people and save you a lot of time.

For a country, it’s part of the diplomatic work. To extend its sphere of influence, the government must have the proper structures in place. This takes time and resources but it is essential as it is part of so-called ‘soft power’, the non-coercive method of persuading other countries to follow its lead, or at least its views on certain topics.

Apr-Jun 2013 Issue