Saturday

11th Jul 2020

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

Support quality EU news

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."

Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen recorded a video in support of Croatia's ruling party, which the EU executive said was in her "personal capacity" - and admits it was a "mistake" that this was not made clear.

Parliament vaping booths 'too confidential' to discuss

The European Parliament is refusing to disclose documents on an internal debate on whether to set up e-cigarette smoking booths at its premises in Strasbourg and Brussels, posing questions on how it handles transparency on relatively minor issues.

EU parliament chairs explain missing lobbyist meetings

MEPs in January 2019 agreed to a rule change in a bid for greater transparency. The rules included requiring committee chairs to publish their meetings with registered lobbyists. EUobserver spoke to six chairs, who haven't done so yet.

News in Brief

  1. Citizens' perception of judicial independence drops
  2. Irish finance minister voted in as eurogroup president
  3. Italy's League party opens office near old communist HQ
  4. 'Significant divergences' remain in Brexit talks
  5. Germany identifies 32,000 right-wing extremists
  6. WHO to hold probe of global Covid-19 response
  7. China accuses Australia of 'gross interference' on Hong Kong
  8. EU to let Croatia, Bulgaria take first step to join euro

Commission chief under fire for Croatia campaign video

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen recorded a video in support of Croatia's ruling party, which the EU executive said was in her "personal capacity" - and admits it was a "mistake" that this was not made clear.

Parliament vaping booths 'too confidential' to discuss

The European Parliament is refusing to disclose documents on an internal debate on whether to set up e-cigarette smoking booths at its premises in Strasbourg and Brussels, posing questions on how it handles transparency on relatively minor issues.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Michel lays out compromise budget plan for summit
  2. Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact
  3. EU 'failed to protect bees and pollinators', report finds
  4. MEPs give green light to road transport sector reform
  5. If EU wants rule of law in China, it must help 'dissident' lawyers
  6. Five ideas to reshape 'Conference on Future of Europe'
  7. EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece
  8. Hydrogen strategy criticised for relying on fossil fuel gas

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us