Regions join army of EU lobbyists
By Philip Ebels
In Brussels in Park Leopold, nestled between the European Parliament and the EU's Committee of the Regions, there stands a baroque chateau built in 1903, tucked away behind a steel fence and surveillance cameras.
Four different flags bring colour to the courtyard with its finely trimmed hedges: one represents the EU, one is for Belgium, one for Germany and the last has two horizontal stripes - white above, blue below.
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"Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union," it says on a plaque at the entrance gate.
Bavaria, Germany's biggest and richest state, was one of the first as a subnational government to have a permanent representation in the EU capital.
It has had a presence here since 1987, its deputy director, Gunnar Wiegand, told EUobserver, in order to "report about recent EU developments, promote Bavarian positions towards EU institutions, [and] present and represent Bavaria in Brussels."
The first, in 1985, was the German city of Hamburg, according to Ulla Sarin of what is now the joint office of the states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein.
In December 2011, according to the latest information from the Committee of the Regions, an EU advisory body, there were in Brussels some 250 offices run by regions cities, and municipalities from across the Union and beyond.
They are not all as prominent as that of the Bavarians, however, which employs 32 people. A survey by EUobserver shows that there are big differences between them.
The Icelandic Association of Local Authorities, for example, employs only one person in Brussels, as does almost one in five of those who responded. Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal and Slovenia have none.
The average number of employees is a little less than six, meaning that in theory, there could be up to 1,500 regional lobbyists working in the EU capital.
There are also big differences in the size of the budgets. Some offices, like the Union of Cyprus Municipalities, have little more than €100,000 per year at their disposal. Others, like the one for South Denmark, have 10 times as much.
The average budget is some €350,000, meaning - in the same non-scientific manner - that subnational governments could be spending more than €87 million per year on EU representation.
But for many, that might be worth it, as they spend much of their time and money trying to get in on generous EU subsidies. A big chunk of the EU budget every year goes to projects aimed at reducing the difference between rich and poor regions.
"Our office is acting as eyes and ears of our region as we actively search for information available only in Brussels, relevant to creating and running projects co-financed by the EU," wrote Andrzej Siewierski of the central Polish region of Lodzkie.
Half of those who responded explicitly mentioned EU funding as an important goal of their Brussels work. The other half did so less explicitly.
EUobserver sent out the survey on 17 September 2012. Of the 249 offices contacted, 34 partially or completely responded.