Lobbying in Brussels: transparency?

One of the most common narratives spread by European Institutions is that lobbies in Brussels are officially recognised and registered, all in the name of transparency. But it is only a euphemism to allow civil servants or MePs to meet with large industry or multinational representatives without being accused of carrying out “off the record” negotiations. Moreover, businesses make use of many studies carried out by consultants and lawyers, to “defend” their own interests (which are far from matching European citizens interests!).

The above mentioned are over 10.000 organizations, which are officially registered as EU lobbies. 845 of these are Italian: 171 of these represent civil society groups, 91 are for university research, 50 are regional, local and municipal structures, and the rest are service facilities and SMEs. This means that most of these lobbies belong to large industries, multinationals, industry associations and consultancies.All transparent, including how they do not compete on equal footing. A multinational can afford permanent offices and staff in Brussels, able to find contacts both internally and externally to EU institutions. An NGO or a trade union cannot afford this level of expenditure and personnel, not to mention local, non-international SMEs who can only “offer” occasional visits during the negotiations’ most “heated” moments.

An extraordinary example of comparison from the field of chemistry: Greenpeace (which has perhaps of all NGOs the largest representational office in Brussels) counts 15 members of staff and an annual budget of EUR 1.6 million. CEFIC (the European Federation of Chemical Industry) has 150 employees and an annual budget of EUR 40 million.

Moreover, many representatives involved with the industry lobbies both directly and indirectly are part of the expert committees consulted by the Commission. Civil society representatives are, on the other hand, more scarce – and when present, are largely in the minority. They are rarely able to present publications or lengthy reports published by qualified (if not scientific) members of staff, the costs of which are often covered by the multinationals or industry associations themselves.

True lobbying takes place inside the Commission, internally, where once again only the most powerful are able to find the right contacts, from the civil servant (the author of the official texts) to the top managers (those who give final approval).

Last but not least, contact with MEPs is a leading aim for lobbies: we must not forget that they are, after all, the missing ingredient to “fill” the gaps in a potential directive.

In conclusion: however positive a register with a list of officially recognised lobbies may be, unfortunately this neither guarantees transparency nor the safeguard of most European citizens’ interests.

For those who wish to read more about this topic we would recommend Les courtiers du capitalisme – Milieux d’affaires et bureaucrates à Bruxelles di Sylvain Laurens, Marseille, Agone, « L’ordre des choses », 2015.

Lobbies’ lists: https://lobbyfacts.eu/reports/lobby-costs/