Monday

23rd Sep 2019

EU embassies 'shockingly' opaque about lobbyists

  • Germany's permanent representation in Brussels has told Corporate Europe Observatory it has no records of meetings held with lobbyists (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The Brussels offices of EU member states have a "shockingly poor record of transparency" in relation to meetings with lobbyists, according to a new report published on Wednesday (6 February).

Less than a handful of member countries gave Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) any insight into their lobby meetings, the NGO said.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • According to CEO, Greece's Brussels office did not even reply (Photo: Peter Teffer)

"This absence of transparency prevents citizens from having any understanding of who its officials in Brussels are meeting, and how these lobbyists might be trying to influence EU decision-making," said the report.

Each member state has an 'embassy' in the EU's de facto capital Brussels, more correctly called "permanent representations".

The head of the office, the permanent representative, is the country's highest EU diplomat in Brussels. Together, they are responsible for preparing legislation for ministers, and for preparing EU summits.

CEO, a Brussels-based non-profit pressure group, asked 19 of the 28 EU countries' permanent representation for a list of a year's worth of meetings with lobbyists.

Only the Netherlands and Romania fully complied. Ireland gave the group only information relating to meetings with the head and deputy of the Brussels office.

"Analysis of the data provided by Romania, the Netherlands, and Ireland indicates that these permanent representations are a major target for corporate lobbyists, although the lack of transparency by others means it is hard to know how representative this picture is for other permanent representations," the report said.

In the 12 months up to June 2018, the Dutch permanent representation hosted 546 meetings, of which 73 percent were classified by CEO as with corporate lobbyists.

The Dutch employers' organisation VNO-NCW, a member in Brussels of the powerful BusinessEurope lobby, was granted 11 meetings in a year.

Anglo-Dutch oil and gas company Shell visited the Dutch in Brussels nine times. The organisation defending European consumers, BEUC, was also granted eight meetings.

Some 15 percent of the Dutch meetings were with trade unions and NGOs.

That share was slightly higher in the Romanian permanent representation, where trade unions and NGOs represented 19 percent of the meetings, or 160 in total.

The Romanians too though were mostly hosting corporate lobbyists - again, 73 percent.

The Irish EU embassy's senior staff held 76 meetings, but CEO said in the report that for many of the meetings the data "failed to make clear what interests were being represented".

Portugal and the United Kingdom said they kept records of which lobbyists came to meet staff - but refused to share the data with the NGO.

According to CEO, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, and Spain said there were no records, while Austria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Poland did not reply.

In the period of the group's investigation, Finland started to proactively publish information about lobby meetings. As of Tuesday, only two meetings have been recorded.

Revolving doors

The report also criticised that there was a "lively revolving door" between permanent representations and the corporate world, listing several examples.

For example, for more than a decade, Pierre Sellal was France's permanent representative in Brussels.

But in January 2018, he joined law firm August-Debouzy, which in a press statement boasted of Sellal's past as a public servant.

"His experience is an additional strength with regard to the firm's international growth and in advising clients on their development strategies in Europe and across the world," it said.

By contrast, EU commissioners are required to take a 'cooling-off' period following the end of their mandate, during which they do not work for corporations if there is a conflict of interest.

The period was recently increased from 18 months to two years - and three years for the commission president.

"The revolving door is a widely recognised problem in the Brussels bubble – with its risk of conflicts of interest and implication that officials and business interests have a shared culture – and it is clear that the permanent representations are not exempt from this," the report said.

Transparency is 'essential'

The report was published a day after another group, Transparency International, mapped the lack of transparency of the Eurogroup.

It also comes a day after Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok wrote in an FT op-ed the EU needed to increase transparency.

"Trust is the bedrock of any union, and is essential to the legitimacy of the EU," warned Blok.

"Greater overall transparency will make it easier to demonstrate the benefits that [EU] membership brings," he wrote, ahead of EU parliament elections in May.

Opinion

Hill's UBS move confirms EU's 'revolving door' problem

No surprise that in the last decade at least one third of top staff at the EU Commission's financial unit have either came from the financial industry or went there after their time at the commission.

Opinion

Why Brussels' toxic lobbying culture must end

What is revelatory about the study by Corporate Europe Observatory is the sheer number of embassies, committees and advisory groups that lobbyists can target: from the Council all the way down to standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed.

News in Brief

  1. German bank fined for cheating Danish tax system
  2. Supreme Court ruling on Johnson on Tuesday
  3. 10 arrests over possible Catalonia anniversary attacks
  4. 53% of Europeans think LGTBI discrimination is widespread
  5. Doubt cast on new Maltese inquiry into slain reporter
  6. March by Slovak Catholics seeks abortion ban
  7. 600,000 stranded on holiday as Thomas Cook collapses
  8. Egypt: hundreds of protesters arrested over weekend

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  2. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  4. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  8. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  10. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  11. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  12. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  6. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  7. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  10. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us