Commission urged to curb corporate lobby influence in Brussels

A group of over 50 European NGOs has urged the new Commission to
“curb the excessive influence of corporate lobby groups” over EU
institutions by tightening up transparency requirements.

In a letter sent
on 25 October, over 50 NGOs from over a dozen EU countries have
called on incoming Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to
tighten the transparency requirements imposed on professionals
lobbying the EU institutions to influence policy-making.

The letter was sent by watchdog group Corporate Europe
Observatory (CEO) – an Amsterdam-based NGO. It claims that 15,000
full-time lobbyists currently operate in Brussels, playing “a
powerful and increasingly undemocratic role in the EU political
process”. The letter mentions the example of a chemicals lobby
group, the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF) (see
EURACTIV, 21 October 2004), saying that
“considerable efforts” are needed to find out that it is “an
industry front group run from the Brussels offices of a global PR
firm”.

“At the moment, EU rules on lobbying are absurdly week,” said
Erik Wesselius, a researcher at CEO. He called on the Commission to
follow the example set in 1995 by the US when it passed the
Lobbying Disclosure Act, which obliges PR firms and lobby groups to
list their clients, issues dealt with and corresponding
budgets.

Those demands were rejected by the Society of European Affairs
Professionals (SEAP), which represents professional lobbyists in
Brussels. In a statement,
SEAP said it was “against the compulsory registration of lobbyists
in Brussels”. Such a model, it said, would not correspond with the
position of EU civil society groups who don’t want the introduction
of the American model in Europe.

In SEAP’s view, “self-regulation is the best way to promote
ethical behaviour with lobbyists, whether they represent business
or civil society group interests”. SEAP pointed to the ongoing
strengthening of its self-regulatory code of conduct to conclude that there was “no need for EU legislation
in this respect”.

SEAP’s code was criticised by CEO as being “extremely narrow and
entirely voluntary”.

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