Paolo Zanetto is the co-founder and managing partner of Cattaneo Zanetto & Co. , one of the largest public affairs firms in Italy. Prior to joining the public affairs industry, Mr. Zanetto worked for the Italian government for 10 years. In addition to his practice, Mr. Zanetto sits on the board of Doğan Burda Dergi (one of the leading Turkish media companies, listed on the Istanbul Stock Exchange) as independent director. OneEurope author Andrea Bonetti and his co-writer Alessandro Strozzi have spoken to Mr. Zanetto about lobbying and political intelligence in Europe and the need for greater transparency in the sector.
1) Most people do not have a clear idea of what lobbying and political intelligence do. Could you give us a brief clarification about that?
Lobbying is an activity that interacts with the policy-making process or the formation process of legislative and regulatory decisions. This activity allows you to intervene in the decision-making process, representing special interests and demonstrating to institutions how much those interests are closely connected to decisions of public interest. Therefore lobbying means drawing the attention of an institution, that at a given moment is considering taking a particular decision, to the positive or negative consequences that decision could bring.
It is simplistic to think that the whole process of lobbying consists in defending the interests of a client in front of the public; hence it is crucial to understand that we are dealing with an active process of dialogue, illustration, analysis of policy options, leading to an institutional position, designed to achieve the maximum interest after a careful analysis of positions both in the public and private sectors.
The activity of political intelligence, however, is a separate activity from lobbying. It aims to listen and analyse, it does not aim to directly intervene in institutional decisions; it is also focused on the understanding of the consequences of the policy decisions initially analysed.
As such, a subject, which can be a company or an association, that wants to actively participate in the legislative and regulatory process hoping to address it in the most optimal way to itself, will conduct a lobbying activity; on the other hand if an institutional investor such as an investment fund, or a large public company, are evaluating the correctness of an investment, it will carry on a political intelligence activity to understand how likely it is that certain institutional decisions will be made, and thanks to that, implement their marketing strategies accordingly.
2) In your opinion, is greater transparency, and especially the establishment of a register, going to bring benefits to the lobbying sector? Is the Italian Government going to create it?
Lobbying is inevitably part of the decision- and policy-making process at national and EU level. This is a democratic process of extraordinary importance within any country committed to being open and accessible to the public, and as such transparency much be acknowledged as a very important requirement as regards lobbying.
The fact that today there is little transparency in the world of lobbying is first of all deeply wrong on an ethical level, and it is also a serious problem because it affects the quality of the process of policy-making. A Transparency Register which lists, as it already happens in Brussels, individuals participating in lobbying activities and the data referring to them, is crucial. I look forward to a similar project being implemented in Italy. The bills regarding this issue, currently under consideration by the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Italian Senate, are auspicious and I hope that this will be a very quick and successful legislative process. The company that I co-founded, Cattaneo Zanetto & Co., works in Brussels too, and it has been registered in the European Register of Transparency for many years, to our great satisfaction.
For those who are working, like me and many of my colleagues, in a professional and transparent way, a register is something that will greatly improve our professional conduct, will help foster a more constructive public debate on policy-making and will block the attempts of those who operate illegally.
I must add that the register itself is not the solution to all problems, and it is necessary to analyse the transparency of the whole public decision-making process and here, once again, Brussels has something to teach us. I think that the mechanisms of public consultation on major directives and other key decisions, for which the European Commission ensures high transparency, are a model of how to increase the quality of public engagement in decision-making in Italy.
Regarding the role of the Italian government in this case, it seems to me that at this time the decision is not in its hands, but in the hands of the Parliament, as the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Senate is currently examining various bills and is conducting hearings, seeking to take forward this proposal with genuine commitment and attention. I hope that the right political conditions are in place so that this proposal receives approval. The Parliament has to make an important decision on this topic and I hope it will do so as soon as possible.
3) How do you see the future of European and Italian political intelligence, a sector quite rooted in the USA?
Today we are at a turning point, made up of the fight for greater transparency, as I said earlier, but which also contains another great achievement: open data. Together, increased transparency and open data, have helped achieve something extraordinary: for the first time in history one can analyse clearly the policy debate and the role politics play in the process of law formation.
Cattaneo Zanetto & Co. have funded an Italian start-up called PolicyBrain , which applies methods of big data analysis to the political environment, to allow anyone who requests it, to look at the decision-making process with clarity and to know exact figures, such as the votes cast by members of parliament or the positions taken by an institutional actor. Obviously, the analysis is tailored to the data of interest to the customer.
So I believe that thanks to the revolution of big data there will be a greater understanding of politics and decision-making, based on factual information and quantitative elements; these allow individuals to make judgments on the quality of the public debate, on the quality of politicians on an individual basis, on the effective compliance between a politician's actions and words. PolicyBrain in Italy and in Brussels, the two markets where it is located, is leading this revolution, and I expect that many other similar initiatives will contribute to achieve this important objective.