By Thomas James
Jul 5, 2015
(Acclaimed News) The latest analytical report from Transparency International has revealed that the majority of lobbying meetings involving the European Commissioners and their staff were actually held with corporate managers. The EU declares the number of lobbying meetings it has approximately every six months.
Between December 2014 and June 2015 analysis showed that there were a total of 4,318 meetings declared by the most senior EU officials, and more than 75% of these were with corporate lobbyists. That compared to 18% with NGOs, a mere 4% with various think tanks, and finally 2% with local authorities. Three of the most active lobbyists were Google, General Electric, and Airbus. They all had between 25 and 29 meetings apiece, which is not surprising as Commission decisions could make them billions, or cost them billions. Google and General Electric happen to have two of the largest lobbying budgets in Brussels, both declaring annual budgets of 3.5 million Euros.
Compared to the US for example the EU declaration of lobbying interests is really lax, and relatively recent too. Despite the introduction of the Transparency Register lobbyists do not have to declare anything if they do not wish to.
Some of the biggest lobbying consultants and firms have refused to register or co-operate with the Transparency Register. Lawyers, lobbyists, and companies do not have to belong to the register, and they can declare whatever they want to declare to the EU. One leading lobbyist in Brussels, Daniel Gueguen stated to New Europe that “the whole thing is useless.”
There have been 7,908 organisations, which have signed up to the Transparency Register, 4,879 of these seek to change, or influence the political decisions made by the EU in the interests of the companies they represent. With budgets of 4.5 – 5 million Euros for lobbying, Exxon, Shell, and Microsoft are the three companies that spend the most money in Brussels every year.
Figures from the first six months of the register indicate that there is a strong link between how much money a company spends on lobbying and how many meetings it can expect, particularly in relation to finance, information technology, and energy sectors.
It is apparent from the figures that the lobbyists representing the bigger corporations are more likely to meet the EU commissioner or official by themselves. The small community groups from civil society are more likely to end up in larger round table groups. Contrast that with the larger NGOs such as Greenpeace that grab the lions’ share of meetings with the commissioners in the portfolios closest to their interests such as energy.
The available data is only the tip of the iceberg, as only 1% of the EU Commission is shown (the 99% below the top is hidden) and only a fifth of the registered lobbyists have had their meetings declared. In other words the meetings that 80% of the 7,821 registered organisations that have meetings in Brussels are not recorded. This includes the EU team and the lobbyists involved in framing the free trade TPP with the US.
Whilst issuing figures about the meetings that the most important EU Commissioners and officials is a start it is still a long way short of the full transparency that some parts of the media and groups like Transparency International EU. Their Director, Carl Dolan argues that the current scheme needs to cover all the parts of the EU so that the public can have greater confidence that everything is being declared. Until that happens it will not be surprising that not all the public trusts the decisions made by the EU.
Whilst being on the register remains voluntary Dolan argued that some of the largest lobbying legal firms with Brussels offices will avoid signing up to it. Transparency International EU stated that firms like Clifford Chase and Sidley Austin were registered in Washington DC because it is mandatory to do so but not in Brussels.
Even the firms and the lobbyists that are on the register do not have to disclose information. They can declare as much, or as little as they chose to do so. For instance, many of the main European and global banking firms are registered yet never provide details of their meetings, or which Commissioners they have met.
Clearly whilst the Transparency Register is a start of gaining information about the lobbying of the EU, it is a very limited one. For the moment it would seem that the data obtained will be limited in scope, and it’s accuracy open to considerable levels of doubt.