European lobbying: 5 things you need to know

In Brussels between 15.000 and 30.000 lobbyists try to influence the policy-making process. With expensive dinners, paid expert advice and scaremongering about lost jobs, corporate lobbyists let their agenda creep into policy documents. 

The new European Commission wants to improve transparency about lobbying. But who exactly are these lobbyists and how do they work? inEurope lists up five things you need to know about European lobbying.

1. The lobbying game

European lobbyists have a big toolbox to influence politicians. Lobbyists invite Commissioners and Members of Parliament (MEPs) to dinner, receptions or free trips. That is one of the conclusions of a 2011 report of the independent NGO, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). The organisation has done in depth research on European lobbying for years. The first conclusion: the clichés are true. But lobbyists are not always that blunt, there are also numerous indirect approaches. They pay think tanks to release biased statements, they reside in expert groups. They hire law firms to draft amendments. MEPs gladly use ‘ready-to-go’ amendments if the lobby involvement is well hidden. Sometimes corporate lobbyists take a more aggressive approach and try to stop or weaken legislation by warning about potential job loss, a decrease in competitiveness or threatening to leave Europe.

2. Financial lobbyists are bigger than the rest.

In a recent report from April, CEO revealed the enormous power of the financial lobby. The financial industry spends more than €120 million every year on lobbying in Brussels. That is thirty times more than consumer groups, NGO’s and unions combined. Spending that extra bit pays off. CEO reports that the financial lobby has 7 times more encounters with EU-institutions than the others combined, even though they represent a far smaller group of EU-citizens.

 3. The lobby register

In 2008 a lobby transparency register was set up under pressure from the European Parliament. The register is however still not very transparent. Lobby groups and companies decide for themselves if they register or not and they do not have to say which laws and topics they lobby on. Some MEPs and organisations have put pressure on lobby groups by not talking to organisations that are not registered, but still only an estimated 2/3rds of all the active organisations is registered.

 4. Juncker’s plans for transparency

Jean-Claude Juncker, the newly appointed commission president, promised new lobby measures. During his confirmation hearing in July, he committed to installing a mandatory lobby registration and to improve transparency about EU decision making. Advocates for transparancy are happy about that commitment, but have strong concerns about three of the announced new Commissioners.

 5. Debatable new Commissioners

Jonathan Hill (UK) the nominee for Finance, Miguel Arias Cañete (Spain) for Climate and Energy and Karmenu Vella (Malta) for Environment, Maritime and Fisheries all have strong ties to big corporations. Hill has worked as a financial lobbyist and banker. Cañete has family interests in the agriculture sector and ties to the petroleum sector. Vella is executive chairman of a hotel group and is involved with gambling industries. CEO has asked the European Parliament to vote no when the three are presented. The NGO says a transparent and clean lobby process can never be a reality as long as Commissioners have corporate interests.

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