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25th Jan 2021

Gas lobby lured MEPs with donations to UN child fund

  • Around 200 requests were sent by FTI Consulting on the behalf of Eurogas (Photo: Bilfinger SE)

The gas lobby has been luring access to MEPs by making promises to donate to the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef), in breach of EU transparency rules.

Brussels-based lobby firm FTI Consulting has been sending out letters to MEPs on behalf of Eurogas, which represents 46 companies and associations from 21 countries, with promises to donate €50 to Unicef for each response to a "perception audit" and a meeting later on.

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The letters were sent out earlier this year and come ahead of a key United Nations climate conference in New York. With Unicef apparently receiving donations on behalf of the gas industry, the move has raised a slew of ethical questions.

The Unicef branch in Belgium that deals with donations would not confirm if it had indeed received any money from Eurogas, citing privacy rules.

"We will look into the matter to better understand what this is about," said a Unicef spokesperson in an email earlier this week, adding that it had not been aware of FTI's Eurogas campaign.

The issue was raised in March by Xabier Benito Ziluaga, who as a Spanish left-wing MEP at the time, wrote a letter of complaint to the European Parliament's then president Antonio Tajani.

"This can be considered as giving an immaterial gift to the MEP to influence his behaviour, which is inappropriate," wrote Ziluaga, who had himself received such a letter and a request.

He asked Tajani to sanction both Eurogas and FTI Consulting.

'A slap on the wrist'

But nothing appears to have been done until Friends of the Earth Europe, a Brussels-based NGO, later filed a formal complaint to the people overseeing the EU's joint-transparency register.

The register is a running list of lobbyists and other consultants working in Brussels trying to influence EU laws and is shared between the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Friends of the Earth Europe said Eurogas, contracting FTI Consulting to act on its behalf, had breached the register's code of conduct.

The register's secretariat agreed, but described it as only a "non-intentional" breach, citing a rule which says lobbyists should "not obtain or try to obtain information or decisions dishonestly or by use of undue pressure or inappropriate behaviour."

Myriam Douo, transparency campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, told this website that the case highlights weak ethics regulations in Brussels.

"All they got was a slap on the wrist. The EU needs enforceable sanctions for violations if ethics codes are going to be taken seriously by lobbyists," she said.

Although there could be more, around 200 people were approached to take part in FTI's "perception audit".

A spokesperson at FTI said corporations making modest charitable donations to recognise participation in such audits is a long standing market practice.

"However, we understand that such practice was no longer felt by the Joint Transparency Register Secretariat to be in keeping with the spirit of openness and transparency which they promote, which is why we have ceased such practices voluntarily without hesitation," he said in an emailed statement.

Eurogas was unable to say on Friday how much they have donated to Unicef, telling this website that they are looking into it with a possible response next week.

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