• Transparency advocates outside the European Commission on Wednesday (Photo: Worst Lobby Awards)

Voting begins for EU 'worst lobbying' award

14.10.10 @ 09:52

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - Voting has begun for the 'Worst EU lobbying awards 2010' - an initiative drawing attention to companies that reportedly use underhand techniques to influence the direction of EU legislation.

Attending the opening press conference in Brussels on Wednesday (13 October), Danish centre-left MEP Dan Jorgensen said it was time to introduce a new authorisation procedure and code of conduct for the estimated 15,000 lobbyists that operate in the EU capital, with severe penalties for those that break the code.

"I am not against lobbying. It is part of the democratic process so long as it is done the right way," he said. "With so many lobbyists competing to gain access to MEPs and decision makers in Brussels you will have some who are tempted to be dishonest and lie."

The awards have two categories this year - climate and finance - with online voting running until 25 November 2010.

Nominees in the climate section are: steel company ArcelorMittal "for lobbying on CO2 cuts under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and profiting from free ETS emission permits;" business umbrella group BusinessEurope "for its aggressive lobbying to block effective climate action in the EU while claiming to support action to protect the climate;" and energy company RWE "for claiming to be green while lobbying to keep its dirty coal-and-oil-fired power plants open."

In the finance category there are: the Royal Bank of Scotland "for secretly lobbying in Brussels and for exploiting insider contacts by headhunting former EU commissioner Gunter Verheugen as an advisor;" Goldman Sachs and derivatives lobby group ISDA "for aggressive lobbying to defend their 'financial weapons of mass destruction';" and hedge fund and private equity lobby groups AIMA and EVCA "for deceptive lobbying to block regulation of damaging speculation in the financial sector."

Speaking for the award organisers, a group of five leading NGOs including Oxfam and Climate Action Network Europe, Paul De Clerck said nominees in both categories include companies and lobby groups that have used "false arguments and threats to block effective regulation."

"Their deceptive lobbying is aimed at securing bigger profits for big business at the expense of the European public," he said.

This year's initiative, the fifth of its kind, comes shortly after transparency groups claimed victory after ex-internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy was forced to step down from the board of a London investment banking group this month.

The move came after a commission ad-hoc ethics committee decided in late August that a potential conflict of interest arose between Mr McCreevy's former job - which involved regulation of the banking sector - and the post with NBNK Investments.

Mr McCreevy's move to the bank, coming on top a number of other advisory roles including with Ryanair, appeared to be a step too far for the much-criticised ethics committee that had previously declined to strike down any single instance in the now notorious 'revolving door' passage between top commission officials and industry.

Campaigners point to other ex-commissioners such as Malta's Joe Borg and Germany's Guenther Verheugen as among those involved in the lucrative Brussels lobbying industry, and question why the alarm was not raised there.

The committee's vague definition of 'conflict of interest' is regularly criticised by transparency advocates as being part of the problem.

A top EU official said on Wednesday that the EU is moving to clarify rules in the area. "The current system is unsatisfactory," said the source. "We have to be absolutely clear that there are no conflicts of interest ... defining in a stricter way what constitutes a conflict of interest."

Meanwhile, the EU commission is close to getting an agreement with the European Parliament on a "transparency register" - a more palatable term for religious groups for instance wary of being tarnished as "lobbyists."

A reluctant-to-join Council of Ministers, representing member states, maintains that it is not being lobbied in Brussels, but that national governments in the various capitals are.

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