The public affairs market. A field still at the outset in Romania, but with a tremendous potential, with a huge need of coordination between business sector and, legislative framework and government. Octavian Rusu, founder and CEO of Issue Monitoring revealed some of the sector’s highlights, challenges and needs of more coordinated steps between politics and business, as well as needs for reform. “In Romania, at every 3 hours, a new piece of legislation is adopted,” he says.
What is Issue Monitoring? When it was established and what were the needs of the market that led to it?
Issue Monitoring is a regulatory monitoring service that helps companies, business associations and NGOs to save time and get rid of the fear that new incoming regulations could affect their work. I started the service in 2015 based on a need that I felt personally during my over 15 years of career in advocacy and public affairs. At that time, during professional challenges, I realized how much it would help me to have the right monitoring tools. I felt the need for a service that would allow me to keep up with the huge amount of information and select only the things that affect the businesses and organizations I represent.
How did you get to be drawn to public affairs? Tell us a little bit of your previous activity and expertise?
My entire professional activity has been connected by the legislative process and by the communication with the Parliament and the Government. My first job was in the central administration in a department of relations with the Parliament, being also the moment of learning and practicing legislative technique. Previous to this, in the Faculty I was involved in extracurricular activities in several students’ associations, including Pro Democracy. After the experience in the Ministry, I chose to work for Civil Society Development Foundation, being actively involved in advocacy campaigns on issues related to the legislation of associations and foundations, taxation, social services and other issues specific to the non-profit sector. Since 2008, I have been a public affairs consultant in a specialized agency, working for different client companies. I experienced also the freelancing working as consultant, trainer or expert in different projects related to advocacy, lobby and public affairs. In 2015, I had the opportunity to develop a startup and I put into practice my 15 years of experience. It was an advantage for me that I knew very well the specific needs of this industry, helping me a lot in the development of the business plan and during the first critical business decisions.
How is the public affairs market in Romania? Much to be done, going into the right direction, chaotic, etc?
The specific public affairs industry in Romania is very small and can be defined by 10-15 public affairs agencies in Romania, approximately 200 market-leading companies with public affairs departments and around 50 active professional associations. It is estimated that approximately 500 experts work in this industry in Romania and the market value is around 50-60 million Euros.
This industry has developed especially after 2007, once Romania joined NATO and EU, a moment that marked Romania as a developing country. Analyzing the dynamics of the development of public affairs agencies, we observe increases in the moments of economic boom and a friendly fiscal and economic climate to investments. The public affairs activity in any company is directly related to the sales strategies, to the opening of new facilities or to the introduction of new products on the market. Since we have a proper environment for economic growth, the public affairs industry is growing.
The public affairs market is still in the early stages of development and is conditioned by economic growth and by the consolidation of the role of dialogue among Government and the business sector. In the last years, I have noticed a more significant consolidation of the employers’ and business associations and it is a trend that more and more companies hire internally public affairs experts with specific role in communicating with public authorities.
How would you compare the local public affairs market with others from abroad? What country has the most professional public affairs market in your view?
The further we go to the west, the more developed the public affairs market is, because the economy is much stronger and the dialogue between Government and companies is much more structured. Thus, this public affair industry is developed in countries such as UK or Germany and is strong in the USA, a country where we also have a well-defined legislative framework.
How is the collaboration with the clients? What is their feedback?
The orientation towards building a good relationship with the clients is the main objective of our activity, focusing on proactivity and exceeding the clients’ expectations. We have specialized colleagues who know the industry and related public policies very well offering us the possibility to understand well the business interests and the impact of the various normative acts on our clients’ activity. We have managed to have, in all the years since the establishment, a 100% retention of our clients and 93% of them declared to us that they are satisfied and very satisfied with our services. The best testimonial we have from our clients is that “Issue Monitoring is addictive”.
Is there any partnership/collaboration with the public institutions? If not, would be a need for that in your work?
Now we do not have any partnership with any public institution, instead we have a free subscription program that we grant to NGOs regarding the legislative monitoring in certain fields. We are interested in being able to take statistical data or public data as much as possible in a structured and automated way and to bring added value from the perspective of reusing this data it in the decision-making process, both for public authorities and companies.
You say on the website that Issue Monitoring is using cutting-edge technology “to separate the information you need from the background noise”. What this technology consists of?
At the moment, we use digital solutions to identify relevant information about legislative initiatives and collect them. Once they are verified and analyzed in terms of client’s interests, they are stored in a platform. This platform helps us to send individually to customers, by email, or to be accessed in a structured way. We are currently working on new features for the platform, so that we can automatically select and analyze the content of the identified information.
What legislative domain is the most challenging in Romania? And in what sector your consultancy is the most sought-after?
In Romania, at every 3 hours, a new piece of legislation is adopted. On average, each year, approximately 4,500 laws, ordinances, Government decisions or ministerial orders are adopted. The fiscal field is the one with the most legislative changes, with an impact on the entire business environment. In 2020, there were 19 modifications to the Fiscal Code and in 2021, only 9. This year, already in the first 4 months, we have 10 changes to the Fiscal Code.
Other over-regulated areas would be health, energy and the banking sector. In recent years, there have been more and more changes in the field related to environment protection that affect many companies.
How did 2021 look like on the legislative framework market in Romania? Did the pandemic in anyway impact this field? I mean were the businessmen more confused, were the central and local authorities less transparent in adopting certain laws/rules?
The transparency of legislative activity has been greatly affected during pandemic years, not only in Romania, but also globally, being one of the conclusions of the 2021 Democracy Index which emphasizes that in these pandemic years, civil rights have been affected, including participation in the decision-making process. In Romania, due to the lack of technological tools for communication and decision-making at the level of the Parliament and the Government, the access of different stakeholders in the debates, in the Parliament, was restricted. In many cases, there were deadlines too short for public consultation being invoked emergency situations.
Is Romania still the land of emergency ordinances? What is, in your opinion, the right share in the laws/GEOs/ Government resolutions picture?
In Romania, almost all legislative decisions are eminently political decisions, in other words, it is decided in the political party or political coalition how law will look and the institutions have only the role of drafting the option of public policy. The Parliament votes according to the instructions given by political party and, very rarely, based on arguments or studies. Thus, the shortest way from political decision to implementation is through the Government, the structure that is characterized by hierarchy and subordination.
There are many arguments in favor of limiting the issuance of emergency ordinances and we have a lot of Constitutional Court resolutions which showed that emergency situations were not justified. However, the legislative system has traditionally been based on government activity and over time has eroded Parliament’s role in issuing “good laws”. It is very clear that governing based on GEOs is not healthful, but what can we put in place?
Unfortunately, we have limited options at this moment and the system reforms cannot be done in crisis situations or in difficult contexts. Restoring constitutional rules and the functioning of central institutions is a long process that should be taken seriously by all political parties in the future. This reform requires a mature decision and a long-term agreement among political forces. Unfortunately, is not a proper moment now and I am afraid we don’t have anyone with us.