The European public was yesterday (13 October) invited to nominate the 'worst EU lobbyist' of 2010 in a contest that organisers hope will encourage policymakers to defend public rather than corporate interests.
The 'Worst EU Lobbying Awards 2010', organised by Friends of the Earth Europe, Corporate Europe Observatory, LobbyControl and Spinwatch, seek to "clean up the lobbying scene in Brussels, discourage controversial lobbying practices by publicly exposing the worst offenders, and discredit the big business lobby among EU decision-making circles".
This year's nominees were chosen for their attempts to influence EU financial regulation and climate change legislation, because "these two categories best show how EU policymaking has been captured by the corporate world," according to Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe, who launched the awards at a ceremony in Brussels yesterday.
"We're not doing this because we’re anti-lobbyists. We're lobbyists ourselves," De Clerck admitted, perhaps mindful of the fact that the European Commission had been quick to point that out itself in previous years (EURACTIV 17/10/07; EURACTIV 21/10/08).
"We think there is an imbalance in favour of the corporate world, and we're meeting [European Commission Vice-President Maroš] Šef?ovi? on Friday to tell him this," he added.
Lobbying 'legitimate part of decision-making', says Commission
Michael Mann, spokesperson for Commissioner Šef?ovi?, said "we recognise that lobbying is a legitimate part of the decision-making process and that’s why we want to make it as transparent as possible".
"The new joint Transparency Register with the Parliament will build on the enormous progress we have already made with our own Commission register," Mann told EURACTIV, adding: "Needless to say, the Commission always takes on board contributions from all sides of the debate."
As for the 'Worst EU Lobbying' contest, the Commission spokesman said "it's certainly a different kind of award".
'Mismatch' between business and citizens
"My experience as an MEP is that it's really true that lobbyists are very much present, especially on financial regulation," said Austrian Socialist MEP Evelyn Regner.
"Many present their opinions or propose amendments to draft reports. These amendments keep on coming back. There's a mismatch between this and representation of citizens. Of course citizens are represented, but we need a better balance," Regner said.
The Austrian MEP claimed that the ability to influence EU legislation was tipped in favour of the corporate world.
"They have the means to postpone legislation, for example, by having access to the best lawyers," Regner said, calling on the Commission to do more to ensure that the high-level groups that it relies upon to draw up legislative proposals are as balanced and transparent as possible.
Danish Socialist MEP Dan Jørgensen defended the key democratic role played by lobbyists in the EU policymaking arena.
"Lobbying is a good thing and benefits democracy when it is done in the right way. It’s good to ask the experts on something how a new law will affect them, and it is an important part of the democratic debate. Lobbyists aren't all evil people," he said.
Nevertheless, he recognised that when thousands of lobbyists are competing for access to EU officials, "it's clear that some will use different tactics to others". "Lack of transparency and the dishonesty of some lobby groups are two of the biggest problems," Jørgensen said.
"If they are lobbying on a single issue, the incentive to be dishonest is greater. It's also greater on complex issues that we find difficult to understand, like climate change," the MEP explained.
Jørgensen called for more regulation of lobbyists at EU level, including a clearly defined code of conduct with sanctions and a mandatory register.
However, "in the US, they have a much tougher regime than ours and they have much bigger problems than us, so even these steps are not necessarily enough," he cautioned.
But he also sounded an optimistic note. "Most lobbyists can't afford to directly lie to politicians, because they make their money from contacting us," Jørgensen said.