6th May 2021

European big business admits to lobbying Washington, but not Brussels

  • European big business is required to say how much its spends on lobbying in Washington, but not in Brussels (Photo: Donald Townsend)

Many of Europe's biggest corporations are avoiding registering their lobbying activities in Brussels even as they admit to the scale of their operations in Washington where registration of lobbyists is required by law, according to a new study.

As a result of the different registry frameworks between the two legislative capitals - in Brussels, the European Commission's lobby registry is a voluntary affair - European big business on the whole is able to make it appear that it is engaged in much more lobbying in Washington than in Brussels. This is the conclusion of a new study by lobbying watchdogs that analyses what the EU's 50 biggest corporations say they are spending on influencing policy.

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A total of 20 of these 50 EU-based firms are not signed up to the commission's lobby register, according to the report, published by Friends of the Earth, itself an environmental lobby group.

And yet many companies, Vodafone, Deutsche Bank, Nestle and E.ON, are known to have a very strong presence in Brussels.

But crucially, the EU companies that are signed up are declaring what the report authors say are "unfeasibly low budgets" for their lobbying in the European capital.

Comparing what firms say they spend in Brussels and what they say they spend in Washington, where the figures registered are checked for accuracy, the researchers found a counterintuitive situation whereby, for example, British Petroleum has declared that its lobby expenditure is 17 times higher in the US than in the EU and ING, the Dutch bank, says that its expenditure is eight times greater in the US.

Despite the moves by EU lawmakers to impose stricter regulation on the financial sector in the wake of the economic crisis, according to their entries in the register, European banks and insurance firms in 2008 spent up to €2.75 million in Brussels, but €18.5 million lobbying in the Washington.

"The oil industry shows a surprising law of decreasing lobbying: the bigger the company, the less it spends on lobbying," said the report authors.

Indeed, in the same year, three out of the 50 companies declared spending more than a million euros on attempting to gain influence amongst decision makers, while 10 did so in the US.

A total of 13 of the 21 companies that are signed up to both the EU and the US lobby registers declare higher lobbying expenditures in Washington.

The way firms have reported their lobbying expenditure in Europe makes it look as though some NGOs are spending more than oil companies on lobbying. The data thus suggests that the Eurogroup for Animals, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles and Friends of the Countryside spend more than twice as much as the biggest oil companies Shell and BP and defence consortium EADS, and more than three times as much as Total, Arcelor Mittal, GDF, or Enel.

"In its current form the European Commission's lobby register fails in its goal to safeguard reliable information and to end the culture of secrecy around lobbying in Brussels," said Friends of the Earth's Paul de Clerck.

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