German EU Presidency: Influenced by lobbyists?

The German EU Council Presidency is also a chance to clean up old practices, according to the study entitled conducted by LobbyControl and the Corporate Europe Observatory. The authors call for Germany to follow Finland's example and publish all meetings of its ministers on EU policy for the duration of its presidency. EPA-EFE/RONALD WITTEK [Ronald Wittek/ epa]

Large lobbying associations have a strong influence on the German government and there are concerns that this might impact its EU Council presidency, which starts on 1 July, warned a study conducted by NGOs LobbyControl and Corporate Europe Observatory. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The study conducted by the two NGOs, called “Tainted Love“, highlighted the influence of lobbyists on the work of the German government. It is based on a series of case studies which range from legislation for the financial markets to fisheries, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and more.

Despite the all-dominant coronavirus pandemic, Berlin has announced a number of substantive EU priorities. But the study calls for caution, particularly in times of “corona washing”.

Nina Katzemich, an EU campaigner at LobbyControl and coordinator of the study, suspects that the gas industry, for example, will have a lot to say on the subject of hydrogen.

All over Europe, gas companies are now advocating the expansion of hydrogen infrastructure, as natural gas will also benefit from it, at least in the medium term. Climate policy, in particular, is a good example of how lobbying work is adapting today, Katzemich told EURACTIV, adding that no company can afford to deny climate change these days.

“However, in return, they are taking evasive action. They emphasise the importance of environmental protection but then focus on dubious technologies such as the capture and storage of carbon dioxide. So lobbying is taking on the environmental rhetoric,” she said.

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The five biggest publicly listed oil and gas companies and trade groups representing them spent more than 250 million euros lobbying the European Union to influence climate action since 2014, environmental groups said Thursday (24 October).

The car industry – a particularly sensitive topic in Germany – will also be discussed under the German presidency.

This is because the European Green Deal is to raise the CO2 limits for passenger cars next year. In the latest negotiations on the matter, which took place in 2018, Germany had spoken in favour of a lower target value than most other countries, but this was not adopted in the end.

Confronted with the coronavirus pandemic, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) wrote to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is also German, in January this year, arguing against a planned revision of the limits, as the automotive industry needed planning security.

EU Council presidency: an opportunity for more transparency

Although Katzemich believes that lobbying is not bad in itself, she said that “on many issues, we see a whole flood of lobbyists who influence the government and who are not evenly distributed.”

If there is an obvious conflict of interest, the meetings of politicians and lobbyists must be “limited to the bare minimum,” she added. Katzemich would like to see a better balance in the meetings of politicians and representatives of different interests.

However, the German EU Council Presidency is also a chance to clean up old practices, the study said. The authors called on Germany to follow Finland’s example and publish all meetings of its ministers on EU policy for the duration of its presidency.

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For some months now, the German permanent representation in Brussels has been publishing its meetings with lobbyists. There is also a transparency register for EU Commissioners and rapporteurs in Parliament, but the bodies of the EU Council are not subject to it.

“Particularly when it comes to the work of the EU Council, there are many ‘clique meetings’ whereby the general public does not know how their state positions itself,” criticised Katzemich.

Under previous European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a transparency register for the EU Council had already been planned. However, in April 2019, the European Parliament’s negotiators, Danuta Hübner and Sylvie Guillaume, declared the initiative dead.

EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans had rejected the proposal on the table as it was inadequate and concerned only the Council Secretariat, among other things.

German government agrees on lobby register

Two weeks ago, almost 100 EU lawmakers asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a letter to “establish new rules and a new culture to prevent excessive influence by companies.”

Meanwhile, after years of deadlock, a transparency register for the Bundestag is now to be introduced in Germany, as CDU Secretary-General, Paul Ziemiak, confirmed last week. For a long time, the conservative CDU/CSU union, in particular, had rejected this.

The agreement was triggered by the scandal involving the young CDU MP Philipp Amthor, whose years of part-time work and lobbying for the US IT company Augustus Intelligence had drawn criticism.

So far, there is no binding lobby register for politicians in Germany, but only a list of associations that are invited to hearings in the Bundestag. The planned register, however, as in Brussels, is not to refer to members of government or ministries.

German EU Presidency: MEPs warn Merkel of company lobbying

An alliance of MEPs is calling on Germany to tighten the rules on transparency and lobbying when it takes over the EU Council Presidency in July. Germany should follow Finland’s example and report what happens at the Council meetings, the MEPs say. EURACTIV Germany reports.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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