As the European Commission’s upcoming voluntary lobbyists register occupies the mind of every lobbyist in Brussels, some have started to question exactly how many of them there are, casting doubt over the 15,000 figure originally put forward by the EU executive.
Among those to question the figure is Tom Antonissen of Logos Public Affairs, a Brussels consultancy. “I estimate that the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association (EPACA), with its 35 members, represents some 500-700 lobbyists, so together with the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP), with 300 individual members, we are talking about a maximum of 1,000 lobbyists,” said Antonissen.
Adding another 500 who are not members of EPACA or SEAP would still account for just 10% of the 15,000 figure, Antonissen explained, wondering “where the other 13,500 lobbyists come from”.
According to Antonissen, the remainder could come from “trade associations, NGOs and think tanks,” most of which should be covered by the Commission’s upcoming register, set to be made public on 23 June 2008.
Antonissen also suggests that there may be “national governments and regional, local and cities’ representatives”. He also cites “churches and religious organisations”. But “all of these are exempt from the Commission’s register” so they should not be included in the statistics, he argues.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament states on its website that there are 4,570 accredited lobbyists in possession of an access badge to the institution.
Tom Spencer of the European Centre for Public Affairs argues that “because the Commission is saying it is up to you whether to register, we won’t be any clearer on the figure of how many, nor where from”. The EU executive “should not have been drawn in to quasi-legislation without tight definitions” of what is required, he adds.
Spencer also believes that the issue needs to be widened to include lobbyists based outside of Brussels who nevertheless seek to influence EU policymaking. “We talk about 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels, but why?,” he asks, stating that focusing the debate on Brussels “fails to define what we are really talking about here”.
This view was echoed by Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe, a member of the steering committee of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), who said one reason for the difference between Parliament’s 4,570 figure and the 15,000 “is that only organisations based in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg can get a Parliament pass and are thus in the register”.
“That means that a lot of lobbyists from outside Brussels, who are actually lobbying in Brussels, are not in the Parliament register. That can be thousands of lobbyists,” he pointed out.
Asked to clarify the matter, Commission spokesperson Valérie Rampi said the EU executive does not endorse the ‘15,000’ figure, describing it as an external estimate. “Without a register we do not have a more precise estimate of the number of institutional actors,” she said.
While Vice President Kallas has occasionally used the 15,000 figure, he has always specified that it is an estimate, Rampi explained, adding that it could be replaced by the real figure if the names of individuals are included in a future common register between the Commission and the Parliament.
The focus of the lobbying debate now shifts to the work of the inter-institutional working group to be established by the Parliament report, which is set to present a proposal for a common register between the Commission, Parliament and Council by the end of the year.