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27th May 2016

Financial sector spends €120mn on EU lobbying

  • Bowles with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers, at the EU parliament (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The EU's financial industry spends more than €120 million per year and employs over 1,700 lobbyists to work in the EU institutions, according to new research by transparency campaigners.

The report on "The fire power of the financial lobby" published on Wednesday (9 April) by the Corporate Europe Observatory found that more than 700 different financial industry groups were active in the EU institutions in 2013.

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Its findings will come as no surprise to Brussels-insiders. The lobbying industry has boomed in recent years as the EU's law-making powers have increased and financial sector legislation has been a key priority of its institutions in the current legislative term.

Since the 2008 financial crisis which prompted EU governments to pump in around €1.6 trillion to keep their banks afloat, the EU has passed a raft of legislation aimed at tightening regulation ranging from the banking and insurance sectors to derivatives and credit rating agencies.

Speaking on Monday at the last meeting of the European Parliament's economic affairs committee before May elections, chairwoman Sharon Bowles said MEPs had piloted 63 new laws, most of them dealing with financial market regulation, since 2009.

The UK, which has the EU's largest financial services sector, accounts for more than 140 lobby groups, the largest number across the bloc, followed by Germany and France.

As a result, the Bowles' influential committee has been the focal point for lobbying on new EU laws.

But many observers feel that the relationship between lawmakers and lobbyists is too cosy.

A number of MEPs on the committee have direct links to the financial sector, such as German centre-right deputy Burkhard Balz, who receives more than €10,000 per month as a director of Commerzbank.

Meanwhile, a growing number of EU officials and MEP staffers have gone through the 'revolving door' by taking jobs as lobbyists.

There is also evidence of deputies proposing 'copy and paste' amendments at the behest of industry lobbyists.

A report looking at amendments tabled by MEPs to legislation on hedge funds and private equity firms found that more than 900 of the 1700 amendments were prepared by lobby groups.

“The financial lobby is a major obstacle to effective regulation,” the report argues, adding that “the relative failure of the reform process showed the tremendous strength in the EU institutions of the financial lobby”.

“The crisis revealed a clear need for stronger rules on financial markets,” commented Kenneth Haar, spokesman for the Corporate Europe Observatory.

“But reform has proved difficult, and these numbers are an important part of the explanation. The financial lobby's fire power to resist reform has been evident in all significant battles over financial regulation since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.”

Transparency groups also want the EU institutions to tighten up their rules to force mandatory registration of lobbying firms. The EU's transparency register was introduced in 2008 and 2,800 Brussels lobby groups have signed up, but it remains voluntary and does not require lobbyists to reveal which laws they are attempting to influence.

For its part, the European Commission estimates that between 60 to 75 percent of Brussels’ lobby sector can be found in the online database.

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