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Totally dominant lobbies in a downgraded Europe – (part 9)

Barroso administration: Golden medal in serving interests

A research by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)

Through the course of the crisis, attempts by corporations and corporate lobby groups to influence EU policies have probably been more successful than ever, in part due to a close relationship with the Commission.”

Corporate Europe Observatory has gathered a lot of evidence over time and covering many different areas that shows how the Commission is easily captured by corporate interests. This report is an attempt to produce a condensed version of how the Commission has come to act on behalf of corporations over the past five years, focusing on climate policies, agriculture and food, finance, economic, and fiscal policies.”

9 - Fighting progress tooth and nail

Key findings

Undoubtedly the biggest ethics scandal in recent years in the Commission was Dalligate, a complex cash for influence scandal involving EU Health Commissioner John Dalli and the tobacco lobby. The scandal broke in October 2012. [...] a commissioner forced to resign; allegations of demands for €60 million bribes; leaked secret reports; dodgy middle-men; revolving door lobbyists; allegations of institutional cover-ups; vital public health legislation disrupted... And how did the Commission respond? Business as usual. At the time, the Dalligate scandal rocked the Commission but 18 months on, President Barroso and Commissioner Šefčovič have done their best to brush it under the carpet.”

... Dalligate showed the Commission withholding key documents from public scrutiny, which the European Ombudsman has now said should be released, following a complaint by CEO. Dalligate also revealed commissioners holding meetings with unregistered lobbyists; that the code of conduct for lobbyists is not effectively enforced; and that the revolving door rules for EU staff are inadequate to prevent staff from lobbying the EU institutions whilst on sabbatical.”

A study by CEO in April 2014 found that 450 out of 700 of lobby groups, banks and financial industry companies that are lobbying to influence the EU in the area of finance and banking reform are not in the EU’s lobby transparency register. This includes major players like Goldman Sachs, HSBC, UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Banco Santander, and many more.

... disclosure requirements are very limited, so even if lobbies are registered they are not required to give a comprehensive picture of their lobbying. [...] there is only very limited oversight of the information reported in the register, which is therefore often unreliable and outdated. Many industry lobbies are found to under-report on their lobby expenses (preferring to appear small) and the register is also riddled with errors. This hardly gives the impression that the Commission is very serious about lobby transparency.”

During three months of negotiations with MEPs, the Commission’s line was consistently to challenge and block proposals from MEPs for larger and smaller improvements of the register. The result is that improvements will be limited, mainly due to the Commission lacking the political will needed to move to a high-quality lobby transparency register.”

Contributions to online consultations and attendees of the civil society dialogue, a 2013 report by the Alternative Trade Mandate (ATM) observes, 'are dominated by lobby groups, mainly from the corporate sector and with an office in Brussels.' The questions asked in the online consultations 'are often leading and selective in terms of what is or is not asked.' This suggests, the ATM concludes, that the Commission seeks to fulfil its consultation obligations 'in a way that allows for consultation outcomes to be easily spun in support of predetermined policy initiatives.'”

... in 2010, the online consultation on the EU’s Concessions Directive used highly leading questions. The questions made it almost impossible to participate for citizens or organisations with a different opinion than the Commission’s. The Commission wanted a directive covering every sector, to bring these under Single Market rules and thereby promote further liberalisation and privatisation of public services. The questions focused almost exclusively on technical aspects of how to do this, not whether these were the right objectives for EU policy.”

Research by ALTER-EU one year after the budget freeze was lifted shows the Commission has gone back on its promise: many groups created since continue to be dominated by industry, while lobbyists continue to sit in groups in a personal capacity. The worst offender was DG Taxation and Customs, with almost 80 per cent of new members representing industry, compared to three per cent from small businesses.

In recent years, a significant number of commissioners and EU officials have walked through the ‘revolving door’ meaning that they have left their positions and started working for big business or lobby consultancies; and conversely, some lobbyists have passed through the revolving door from representing private interests to working for EU institutions. When this happens, big business gains huge opportunities to access inside-knowledge, vital contacts, and above all, powerful influence over the EU’s policy-making process. CEO’s RevolvingDoorWatch aims to keep track of these moves – and EU institutions’ failure to effectively regulate them.”

For EU officials, the rule book which includes revolving door regulations was revised in 2012-13 with Commissioner Šefčovič spearheading the changes. Yet he neglected to make proposals to tighten up the rules although MEPs did introduce some amendments which were a slight improvement. Yet major loopholes remain within these rules too. In particular, these must be tightened to include a major category of officials (those on temporary contracts), who are largely excluded at the moment, and who, as a result, are able to move back and forth between the EU institutions and the private sector with little official oversight.


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