Friday

30th Sep 2022

Italian prankster spams EU lobbyist register

  • Venetian carnival masks (Photo: Wikipedia)

The European Commission's voluntary online register of Brussels lobbyists has been hijacked by a mysterious mischief-maker who registered a string of seemingly fake companies.

Foremost amongst them is the "Fares Bank Ltd" of Harley Street, London, which is supposed to have spent €250 million on lobbying EU institutions in 2008, immediately making it the biggest spender in the Register of Interest Representatives, a database of public relations companies, law firms, NGOs and think-tanks that attempt to influence European legislation.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The vast sum looks all the more outlandish when put next to the two largest real lobbying outfits in Brussels, Hill & Knowlton, which had a turnover of about €8 million and Burston Marsteller on €7 million.

The Fares Bank entry states, in comically poor English, that it worked on banking legislation. "Fares Bank's activity is explicated in the international field and proposes itself as strategic partner of trades, giving professionality [sic], experience, competence, venture capitals."

The company's London address is the same as Virtual Serviced Offices, a private post office box in London "available on very flexible terms for a minimum period of one week." Its homepage is skeletally bare.

The supposed Fares Bank director, Willy Bergher, gets just three Google hits - the commission registry, a Romanian literary review and the "Financial Insurance Services European Companies Union," which was "conceived by an idea of one of the greatest experts of world financial analysts engineer Willy Bergher."

A quick internet search reveals however that the Fares Bank website is registered to a Gennaro Ruggiero of Prato, Italy. Mr Ruggiero, or "Dr Ruggiero," as he sometimes styles himself, has a much more prolific web presence than his ostensible associate.

The Italian character is also connected to an extended chain of likely ghost organisations on the internet, such as the "International Association of Freelance Journalists," the "Professional Order of Qualified Euro-advisors and Euro-planners" and the "Observatory on Tourism in the European Islands," according to Erik Wesselius of pro-transparency NGO Corporate Europe Observatory.

Mr Ruggiero and another individual, Giuseppe Catapano, are also on the European Parliament's lobbying register as part of another virtual organisation, the "Observatory of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe."

Significantly, signing up to the parliament's database offers registrants permanent access badges to the European Parliament buildings, where security questions were raised after a bank robbery in broad daylight on Thursday (12 January).

Mr Wesselius, who discovered the Ruggiero network by chance while trawling through the commission's register, found at least 13 of the Italian's virtual organisations have signed up.

"It's just astonishing," he told the EUobserver. "I don't know whether this guy is deliberately fiddling with the commission's registry, or has delusions of grandeur that he is some international banking genius or what."

"But this seems to suggest that there is no regular oversight of the lobbying registry by the commission at all."

Describing a process where the registry has in effect been turned into depository of spam from a fantasist, Mr Wesselius said the commission system has been seriously compromised.

"If any old fool can sign up to the registry and post whatever they want, without somebody seriously monitoring the data that's in there, what is the registry worth?" Mr Wesselius added.

"How do we know that Hill & Knowlton also has actually spent €8 million? Who's checking up on it? How can anybody trust any of the data the registry contains?"

European Commission spokeswoman Valerie Rampi said that two complaints about the fake entries had been received in the past week.

"Information from the countries concerned is being gathered and if it is found that there has been an abuse of the code of conduct attached to the registry, there are sanction mechanisms we have at our disposal," she said, adding that such sanctions could involve the relevant party being struck from the registry.

A commission official said he did not know how many other false registrations there are in the system.

"We don't check all the entries, obviously," he said. "The information comes from the registrant and we put the burden for registering on them. It's their responsibility. The European Commission does not endorse or verify what goes in."

Feature

Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy

EUobserver spoke with several business figures and all confirmed they voted for Georgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy because it promised stability, less bureaucracy and tax cuts. Matteo Salvini's anti-EU rhetoric scared them, while they trust Meloni has "more common sense".

Europe's far-right celebrates Meloni victory

In Warsaw and Budapest, the prime ministers were quick to congratulate the new Italian leader, who — they hope — will back them in their battles with the EU over civil rights, rule of law and democratic backsliding.

EU seeks crisis powers to take control over supply chains

The Single Market Emergency Instrument (SMEI) introduces a staged, step-by-step, approach — providing emergency powers to the EU Commission to tackle any potential threat which could trigger disruptions or shortages of key products within the EU.

Testimony from son rocks trial of ex-Czech PM Babiš

In a fraud trial relating to €2m in EU subsidies, Andrej Babiš son testified his signature on share-transfer agreements was forged. He claims his father transferred the shares to him without his knowledge, making him a front man for scheme.

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

Podcast

How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

News in Brief

  1. EU ministers adopt measures to tackle soaring energy bills
  2. EU takes Malta to court over golden passports
  3. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  4. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  5. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  6. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  7. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  8. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Going Down Under — EU needs to finish trade deal with Australia
  2. MEPs worry Russian disinfo weakens support for Ukraine
  3. Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan
  4. Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy
  5. How US tech giants play EU states off against each other
  6. Deregulation of new GMO crops: science or business?
  7. The European shipping giants plying Putin's fossil-fuels trade
  8. Russian ideologue and caviar on latest EU blacklist

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us