Monday

17th Feb 2020

Opinion

Juncker's legacy: Business as usual for lobbyists

When Jean-Claude Juncker became European Commission chief in 2014, he made many big promises, including that commissioners would "ensure an appropriate balance" in the lobbyists they meet.

Campaigners could have been forgiven for hoping this would redress the EU's hefty skew in favour of corporate lobby meetings.

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 join as a group

But five years on it is clear that despite some tinkering at the edges, excessive corporate influence remains a problem.

Despite Juncker's pledge, there has been little evidence of a balancing of interest groups.

Instead, corporate lobbies have continued to enjoy excellent access to commission staff, securing 70 percent of all meetings with the institution's top 300 officials.

Trade policy is an especially stark example of business lobbies trumping public interest groups in terms of access.

On the revived EU-US trade talks, for instance, every meeting with an NGO or trade union was matched by 10 meetings between EU negotiators and corporate lobbyists.

The gas industry also spends more on lobbying EU officials and has more staff than green NGOs do in Brussels, pushing the idea that burning gas is "clean", despite the climate crisis.

But the numbers are just part of the story.

Traces of corporate influence on the Juncker commission policies are the other, more important, part.

The high number of revolving door cases between EU commission staff and financial services firms, for instance, makes it hard to say who is regulating whom.

Could that be one reason why Juncker never really delivered on promises to regulate the banking sector even 10 years after the financial crisis?

Big pharmaceutical firms also managed to score business goals in Juncker's Brussels, amid a PR offensive and membership in EU commission advisory groups, which helped delivered corporate-friendly intellectual property rules and monopoly pricing for medicines.

Many other decisions by the Juncker commission also bear the fingerprints of corporate lobbying.

And some of them helped to cement corporate influence in the EU decision-making system.

Under Juncker, the commission pursued a "Better Regulation" agenda, giving corporate lobbyists new opportunities to push economic priorities over social and environmental ones at the drafting stage of the legislative process.

The net results have so far been weaker rules on chemicals regulation, workplace health, and vehicle emissions testing.

In the same vein, the Juncker commission also pursued a "regulatory cooperation" plan on international trade.

Much to the delight of lobbyists such as BusinessEurope and the US Chamber of Commerce, who hope this fusing of trading partners' rulebooks will help big companies change EU laws in the context of free-trade deals.

This type of 'regulatory cooperation' is set to be a priority in US-EU trade talks.

And the finance lobby also wants to see it featured in a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal.

Meanwhile, new policy proposals and legislative reviews are set to become subject to a new "innovation principle", which takes aim at health and environment rules that might hamper business 'innovation'- while not even defining what is considered innovative.

Given that the commission's research department picked up the concept from lobby groups such as BusinessEurope and the European Risk Forum (whose members consist of the fossil fuel and chemicals industries), this is perhaps not surprising.

The actions of the outgoing commission have spoken louder than the words of its president at the beginning of his term.

Juncker's commission failed to balance lobby meetings of top officials, ignored revolving door scandals, and did not come clean on contacts with the tobacco lobby.

It too often failed to protect the public interest.

The incoming president of the commission Ursula Von der Leyen and her team must do better.

By challenging industry's privileged relationship with EU officials, by being especially cautious of toxic sectors such as the fossil fuels industry, and by properly implementing independent ethics and stricter transparency rules, Ms Von der Leyen can - and must - show she is more concerned about the public interest in policy-making than her predecessor was.

Author bio

Vicky Cann is a researcher and campaigner at Brussels-based lobbying watchdog organisation Corporate Europe Observatory.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Exclusive

Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings

The German former secretary-general of the European Commission held some 21 meetings which were registered in the lobby register. But no documents appeared to exist summarising what was said.

Investigation

Saudis and their lobbyists risk losing access to EU parliament

The leadership of the Greens have asked European Parliament president Antonio Tajani to "revoke access badges to Saudi officials and to public relations companies or other entities working for or on the behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

The last best chance for Donbas and peace in Europe?

At the Munich Security Conference this weekend, the Euro-Atlantic Security Leaders Group (EASLG) will publish Twelve Steps Toward Greater Security in Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic Region, endorsed by nearly 50 distinguished current and former senior officials, military officers, and experts.

What you don't hear about Spain's migration policy

Morocco is a far cry from Libya. But Spain's cooperation on migration with Morocco still warrants closer scrutiny. The argument that Morocco is a safe country and a reliable recipient of EU funding is becoming harder to uphold.

News in Brief

  1. Michel proposes GNI 1.074 percent for budget
  2. Five Star Movement to protest against own government
  3. France pushing for tougher EU line on Brexit alignment
  4. Facebook delays EU roll-out of dating app
  5. Coronavirus a 'key risk' in EU's economic forecast
  6. Von dey Leyen defends record at German parliament inquiry
  7. Johnson loses finance and N. Ireland ministers in reshuffle
  8. Eight EU states warned over money-laundering delay

Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal

The moment Europe revels in its carbon-free transport system, most of the cars that emitted too much for EU standards will still be driving around for years somewhere else in the world.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  2. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December

Latest News

  1. The last best chance for Donbas and peace in Europe?
  2. EU commissioner lobbied by energy firm he owns shares in
  3. Will coronavirus lead to medicine shortage in EU?
  4. EU transparency on lobbyist meetings still piecemeal
  5. 'Westlessness' - Western restlessness at China's ascent
  6. Central Europe mayors join in direct EU funds plea
  7. What you don't hear about Spain's migration policy
  8. 'Top-down' future of Europe conference 'will fail' warning

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us