Lobby Planet report shows Brussels spinning with corporate influence

Fri, 2011-10-07 08:21Graham Readfearn
Graham Readfearn's picture

Lobby Planet report shows Brussels spinning with corporate influence

Lobby Planet report
THE maxim of the lobbyist is generally to be heard but not seen, although a new report on the concentration of lobbying in Brussels suggests you'd be hard pressed to go anywhere in Belgium's capital without bumping into several.
 
Not-for-profit research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory has released an update to its report of 2004, showing how the city, home to the European Commission and European Parliament, now sustains a lobbying industry second only in the world to Washington DC.
A growing number of MEPs have spoken out against the constant offensive from industry lobbyists that often leads to watered down social and environmental laws and policies. There has been growing support for transparency and ethics rules to curb the impact of corporate lobbying. So far, however, genuine change has been minimal.
The report - Lobby Planet - outlines how Brussels has become a “magnet” for lobbyists with as many as 30,000 professionals trying their best to influence policy, law makers and politicians in the EU.

The free guide documents some of the key lobbying organisations and public affairs consultancies, and who they work for. But also, the report finds there are some 500 major corporations who have their own in-house lobbying offices in Brussels, including BP, Shell, Microsoft, chemical giant BASF, electricity generator E.ON and defence and security company Thales.
 
Olivier Hoedeman, CEO's research co-ordinator, says:
Brussels is now home to an incredible number of lobbyists, drawn by the easy opportunities to influence decision making in the European Union. And of course, big business interests dominate. Many people do not realise how powerful these lobbyists have become.
The report says
In-house lobbyists often work alongside hired consultants, generally employed by large public relations firms or by international law firms, and who work for a fee for a number of clients. These 'for hire' firms sometimes specialise in repairing damaged reputations or setting up front groups or fake NGOs.
Even though the prime target for lobbyists is the European Commission, the report says there is an increasing focus on the 736 Members of the European Parliament. CEO says about 4,000 lobbyists have access badges to the parliament.

More than 1500 industry groups and hundreds of public affairs consultancies and law firms are also squeezed into a few square kilometres cheek-by-jowl with the halls and offices of the European Commission and the European Parliament.
 
According to Lobby Planet, the physical closeness of the lobbyists offices with the offices of those they're trying to influence is mirrored in the way policies are being formulated.
 
In one six-month period, CEO says MEP Giles Chichester, a member of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee, had 219 meetings with lobbyists, mostly from industry.

CEO reports that it spoke with Swedish MEP, Carl Schylter, who told them that “over 95 per cent of all amendments on a climate proposal on fluorinated gases… came from lobbyists.”
 
The phenomenon of the “revolving lobby door” is one recognised the world over, where politicians, ministers and senior government staff and advisors leave their posts for lucrative lobbying jobs. In Brussels, the doors seem to spin constantly. 
 
No less than six of the 13 departing commissioners in 2010 went into private sector roles, many of which involved lobbying, says CEO. Former Enterprise Commissioner Gunter Verhuegen just dived straight in and set up his own lobbying firm - the European Experience Company - although he chose Potsdam in Germany as the location.
 
Doubling as a tourist guide book (although it would be an odd sort of tourist), the report highlights the streets and areas in Brussels where lobby firms are concentrated. CEO even offers guided tours of the EU quarter for anyone finding themselves in Brussels with time, or perhaps key elements of legislation, to kill.
 
For example, in the heart of the EU quarter around Rond-Point Schuman, is the office of AmCham EU (American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union), which represents more than 140 companies as members, including the likes of McDonald's, Coca-Cola. Pepsi, British American Tobacco, Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Monsanto, Nike and Facebook.
 
Around the Place du Luxembourg, are the offices of lobby consultancy Interel Cabinet Stewart, which look after firms including Rio Tinto, L'Oreal and Google and, most fittingly for a lobbying firm, a lubricant industry group.
 
As for the transparency of the lobbying? In June 2011, a shared “transparency registry” for the European Parliament and Commission was launched, but registration isn't mandatory and there's little detail. Lobby Planet claims Interel chairperson Catherine Stewart has been lobbying against further transparency.

Special focus in the report is given to the financial, carbon and food and biotech lobby industries. In the carbon lobby scene, BP and Shell are among those singled out - the former for its work in securing free permits for refineries under the EU emissions trading scheme; the latter for lobbying for lower emission targets and subsidies for “carbon capture and storage.
 
The Lobby Planet report also identifies the 10 essential tools which are commonly used by industries and corporations to “capture the policy agenda” in Brussels.
 
After buying or renting some office space close to the Commission (tool 1), lobbyists find their way onto one or more of the European Commission's “advisory groups” (2). 
 
Headhunting an EU-decision maker (tool 3) is a good way to gain insider knowledge. Paying a think-tank to “promote your agenda” (4) and hiring law firms to draft amendments (5) are both effective strategies. Setting up industry forums to hold dinners and receptions are good ways to press the flesh (6). One example was the European Energy Forum which, the report claims, took MEPs on a trip to the Arctic paid for by Norwegian oil firm, Statoil (the EEF president is Giles Chichester).
 
Setting up front groups (step 7) and generally scaremongering about job losses (8) in your industry (perhaps paying a consultancy to come up with some scary numbers) are other common tools in the lobbyist's box. 
 
Finally, you can use your various avenues of influence to bury “unwanted measures in process” (9) or just try and distract the political debate (10) with a side issue while your amendments go through unnoticed.

 

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