Biofuel groups win EU Worst Lobbying Awards

10.12.08 @ 17:37

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - Biofuel lobbyists in Brussels have won the award for "Worst EU Lobbying 2008" - the annual spoof awards ceremony organised by transparency campaigners to gives the raspberry to the lobbying community in the EU capital.

  • The satirical awards faced - and won - its first legal challenge this year (Photo: worstlobby.eu)

Spanish energy firm Abengoa Bioenergy, the Malyasian Palm Oil Council and Brazilian biofuels group UNICA jointly won the less-than-prestigious award on Tuesday night (9 December) for their intense lobbying and advertising campaigns attempting to counter the flood of reports from academics, development organisations, the World Bank and the UN that highlighted the environmental and food-security cost of the alternative energy source.

The transparency campaigners, bringing together Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe, Lobbycontrol and Spinwatch, accused the three biofuels groups of "misleading information and greenwash ...in key European media to get their message out."

"All three made exaggerated predications about the percentage of greenhouse gas savings biofuels can achieve," the awards' organisers said.

In one advertisement repeatedly featured in Brussels media, Abengoa cited information from environmental campaign group Transport and Environment to back up their claims about the sustainability of biofuels. However, the group in question campaigns against unsustainable biofuels and says the quote does not come from any of their reports.

EUobserver attempted to reach the award-winners for comment unsuccessfully.

Every year, a second award - the EU Conflict of Interest Award - is also handed out to the other side of the lobbying game, the person being lobbied.

This year, the award went to Finnish conservative MEP Piia-Noora Kauppi, who is going directly from the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, where, according to the award organisers, she has repeatedly pushed for "light-touch regulation of the banking sector," to work as director of the Federation of Finnish Financial Services in January, 2009.

Transparency campaigners argue that the MEP is an example of the all-too-common "revolving door" phenomenon, where politicians and officials step out of the role of a regulator of one sector of the economy straight into the role of an advocate for the same sector.

Ms Kauppi called the claims of conflict of interest "totally unjustified and politically motivated" and described the organisers of the awards show as being "anti-business."

"I have been fully open about my nomination to the Federation of Finnish Financial Services and I mentioned it in the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament after my nomination was made public," she said.

"I have also resigned from my full membership in the ECON committee in July, and another Finnish MEP has taken my seat," she added.

The award show organisers for the first time this year were the target of legal action on the part of one of the nominees.

One of the candidates for the Worst Conflict of Interest Award, suspended European Commission official Fritz-Harald Wenig, last week argued before the Court of First Instance in Brussels that his name be removed from the nomination list and not be mentioned during the awards ceremony.

Mr Wenig was stung earlier this year by journalists from the UK's Sunday Times posing as lobbyists offering to pay for information they received from him in his capacity as director of trade defence with the commission's trade department.

The undercover reporters offered Mr Wenig a well paid job and a payment of €100,000. The newspaper reported that the official then suggested putting the money in a frozen bank account which he would be able to access after he retired.

The Court of First Instance however found in the award organisers' favour.

The awards' presenter, UK comedian Mark Thomas, said: "The most fundamental tenet of democracy has to be transparency ...By naming and shaming the winners of the awards, I hope we can illustrate the crucial need for action across the EU to prevent such conflicts of interest and corporate abuse from damaging people's lives and the environment."

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