Business is booming for Brussels bubble lobbyists. There were an estimated 30,000 lobbyists working in the Belgian capital in 2014, making it second only to Washington D.C. Many Europeans have a negative view of all this. They worry that large corporations have too much of influence over EU decision-making, and that there is not enough transparency involved.

However, as long as there are proper rules in places to guarantee ethical behaviour, isn’t lobbying a key part of the democratic process? Shouldn’t stakeholders (including business, but also NGOs, activists, charities, etc.) have the opportunity to put forward their case and explain how new legislation will affect them?

Today, we’re continuing our “Ask” series with the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly. As European Ombudsman, she deals with issues of maladministration, transparency, whistle blowing, and improper lobbying. She’s tasked with investigating complaints from citizens about poor administration by EU institutions or other EU bodies.

What do our readers think about lobbying in the EU? We had a question from Delay, who thinks lobbyists have far too much influence over EU politics. What would Emily O’Reilly say in response?

We also had a comment from Nikolai, who argues that “One man’s lobbying is another man’s advocacy”. However, he adds that it is important for lobbying to be strictly regulated, and conducted openly and according to the rules. Is that happening at the moment? Is undisclosed or improper lobbying being kept to a minimum in the EU?

Does the EU do enough to regulate lobbying? Do lobbyists have too much influence? Is undisclosed lobbying kept to a minimum? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Flazingo Photos

31 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Bódis Kata

    Oh, this is going to be a hot topic. :D

    When EU bodies regularly meet private organisations to coordinate policy and execution, then the regulation of lobbying appears to be a big zero.

    • Steven Selleslagh

      The most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard in my entire life Marko Martinović!

    • Dee O'brien

      Well you would say that Steven Selleslagh

  2. Ivan Burrows

    With 236 MEP’s and the unelected European Commission in his back pocket Mr George Soros owns the EU & he does it via lobbying, so you work it out.
    This is the Eurozone in a nutshell:.

    Youth Unemployment:

    Greece: 39%
    Spain: 37.9%
    Italy: 32.7%
    France: 22%


    Germany: 6.6%

    Are you seeing the bigger picture yet ?

    • Dee O'brien

      Good old George is attending Davos this year…the world’s elite saving the world one sip of champagne at a time

    • Steven Selleslagh

      White a fake family name like yours we’re simply ignoring your statement!

    • Ivan ToProvoke

      Its ok. I just want to tell you that EU is wrong. This is the truth

    • Dee O'brien

      It needs to go full stop

  3. Dee O'brien

    30,000 Lobbyists based in Brussels,do you think they have Joe citizens interests at heart….the Brussels business

  4. Andrew Potts

    No business and NGOs are shameless when buying influence. The Open Society publishing a list of allies is a good example, how can you trust any body named to do the right thing when compromised in this fashion.

  5. Frank Cunningham

    44 years of anti E.U.headlines from the right wing Tory Press is impossible not to influence people who can see no further.And don’t want to think any further.

  6. EU Reform- Proactive

    “Continuous access” and input from business is important. The wishes of the voters are equally important and should be balanced equally continuously. Not every 5 years only- nor by bureaucrats acting as remote and mainly self-serving representatives”.

    The EU concept is therefore often identified by many as a Plutocracy. Why not look at “The “Caux principles”:

    The current EU “lobbying rules and practices” are:

    and could cynically be compared to those of the “Royal Golf Club of Belgium”.

    Ethical behavior in our multi party democratic governments must reflect a “moral capitalism”- not a destructive or captured one.

  7. Ivan ToProvoke

    EU is financing feminist lobby, which is a criminal ideology – e.g the Istanbul convention. It imposes different standards and rights for women and men (of course men are injured in all cases)

  8. Anonymous

    If you have no lobbyists then you have no corruption so the whole experiment fails

  9. Barbara Mehlstaub

    Das macht es ja so praktisch: nicht mehr kleine und größere Länder einzeln bearbeiten zu müssen nach dem motto: du machst die gesetze und wir sagen dir wie

  10. Rapid Victor

    Unbelievably uninformed comments…so a former teacher- turned-mep who finds himself in econ- com. Is expected to make informed decisions just like that? Rule of Law also entails that laws are applicable, which means technicalities and consequences are being raised. Or possible contradictions. The final decision must be the mep’s. But why so much hatred? NGOs usually employ much dirtier methods than Monsanto even thinks off..

  11. Agnes VB-Osborn

    A definite NO! Just look at the German ‘Braunkohle’ lobby. Signing the Paris Climate Agreement (and blaming others for not signing!)but continuing to be among the worst polluters!

  12. Venzislav Dermendjiev

    In principle: You need the dialogue with all sides and players.
    However, lobbying of those with heavy financial interests (aka companies, businesses) has to be strictly regulated and should be restricted to a technical minimum, preferably technical Information in a written form or strictly formalised meetings, always with a minimum of 2-3 people from each side in a neutral environment and only with a clearly defined need and purpose of the meeting (e.g. clarification of technicalities), should be allowed´- or similar regulations.
    The EU/EK has to remember her function which is to act in the interest of the long-term common good.

    It has to be taken into consideration that big companies as one side of the common good (job providers) can afford a lot to impress, to finance and organise lobbying and studies, whereas the ones on the other end (consumers and others) have tendentially less money and/or are less organised – which does not make their arguments less valuable from the outset.
    Equally, the company side mostly tends to have short term interests (revenues) whereas the other side’s interests are usually long-term (health, jobs, energy or pension security etc.).
    All this has to be taken into consideration by the regulator and to be counterbalanced accordingly.

    The EU/EC/EP has to also remember that the rules and decisions it makes have an effect on the economy, and that these effects are usually never as desastrous as the companies paint them in case it is not what they want.
    The business will find a new way within a (properly) changed ´regulative framework, this is the principle of a market economy.

    Again: The job of the regulators is to look after the long-term common good, and the companies are only one of many (f)actors and players for this common good.
    To properly regulate lobbying in a restrictive way, tackling also the danger of corruption (see below) is the very necessary first important regulative step – taken by an institution that works and acts by definition for the interest the common cood (EU/EC/EP).

    Corruption as one of the core problems of lobbying has to be tackled effectively and with severe consequences. There is vast academic research and experience on that, it just has to be applied. Officials, incl. MEPs, literally have to be afraid of consequences, otherwise it will not work.

    Important is that the governments of the MSs are also aware of the problem and tackle it. The EU/EC/EP cannot go it alone. But to remain credible it has to take the first step.

  13. David Pellon

    We have all seen movies of awesome people that managed to fight the system with their own weapons and after deep research, under duress yet tenacity they managed to solve issues in the name of democracy.

    The reality as i see with my limited information is that:

    Individual citizens first have the belief that they do not have enough weight in state governance. They consider it cumbersome. They do not have enough time to research or study increasingly extensive regulations and at a cost in time or money. They need to bring their requests together with a big number of other citizens that will only decide based on populism (easily gamed today with centralized media and/or bubble filter tech like fb or google’s) as is unlikely that such a number of individuals has a deep knowledge of the issue. If one citizen that wants to improve things wants to participate in many issues, this system won’t work for him as he will need to abandon his career to take care of this issue and even if he manages to find a group that shares his concerns, the common ideas might be limited, or based in political affiliation that is proving itself quite resilient to change with tags created 100 years ago (socialism, communism, …) that polarize the idea without caring for the content.
    Neither he will be able to continue in the advance of those ideas as he probably won’t be able to allocate enough resources for long terms. In general terms we have is only very coraugeous individuals or those extremely well motivated for some specific reason trying to improve some specific situation that we could characterize as leaf in the tree of problems. Probably in the long term their effect will be noisy and almost random and in the big scale exceptional and atomic. Supranational regulation makes the issue worse.

    Lobbyist groups have a job to achieve some results. It is their job and they can spend illimited time on any issue. They are funded, and that might include documentation, lawyers, a specific agenda or even contacts. Those economic incentives usually try to gain some advantage later. With money enough and when the lobby process is not open enough they might find ways to advance issues in their queue or dissuade the advance of competitors. They can organize their efforts, create horizontal or vertical approaches along full industries and lobby to change entire branches of legislation with specific objectives and also concentrate in the smaller details even to syntactic level as even one detail in one paragraph or a comma might give them some advantage in the long term against competitors.

    So what do we have here in basketball difficulty levels: a 10m basket for the citizen, a 4m basket for a political party or a political common idea, and a 1m basket for private interests -> Exponential Inequality. Citizen Discontent.

    Oversight and regulation should give importance to the details but specifically to the trend and the big scope of things. Some party, like one citizen might help solve one important battle, but in the long term if we throw one million basket balls and in one side the basket is at 1m and in the other is at 3m, we already know who will win. It is just a matter of time. So unless inequality is considered with a montecarlo very wide analysis with million of throws (even with quasirandom considerations) that gives importance to the equality floor of the system making sure that their foundations are in equilibrium more than to the specific details, it will just bring more inequality at the end. When that happens even the regulator process itself with the best intentions will end hindering the aspirations of those that were destined to receive some help (in many circumstances) and benefit those that sit on an advantageous social, economic, political, etc layer even multidimensional and hidden to the regulator but maybe clear as water for an AI, statistic or big data team in 5 years (now!) with enough resources.

    Unless the process is very open and even structured with a foundation structure in mind in which privacy, cryptography, equal participation at all levels, total transparency of the allocated funds, and where the recommendations brought by the citizens or companies never reach a specific person but an anonymous system that makes sure WITH MATHEMATICALLY ZERO TRUST that the system is not gameable (and even post analysis of statistical data to observe skewness and inbalances) we might end with an unfair situations that will make that many times even the regulator hurts more than heals.

    • David Pellon

      Some additional thoughts. Please excuse my english. I keep trying.

      It might even be a matter of European/National Security. We live lately in the press how external actors might be interfering to some level in political processes. Where is the truth? Is it a grayscale, black or white? Should forums in newspapers decide what is true or what is not?

      We see videos about how music performance can be optimized to extreme levels for some musicians. How actors can portrait gestures in realtime and they appear as if public representatives where making them using only software? Just this past month we talk about Neural Internet that shapes into photolike digital creations anything that can be formulated with words.

      Are we moving towards the fourth revolution with a mixture of digital of the realworld without any possible shield that let us define what is true or what is not? Are regulators taking too long to address those concerns in an exponential tech growth situation that will increasingly make the real situation further from the regulated? Can that real-regulated distance at some point even be used as a weapon that reduces democratic functions? Is it happening now?

      In the field of lobbies and in how they affect democracy and its processes we have always talked about the fourth power as a column of democracy as it brought the necessary process of review so necessary for everything. But what happens when there is too much media centralization, or where do those data feeds come from. In the process of law making the opinions of citizens have always had a really important part in democracy. What happens when the ideas of citizens can be shaped with bubble filters that send personalized mails, specific ads links, news, opinion articles to specific people and based on their hourly mobile review, learn and show new data, like a chess game that learns and TESTS our reactions ? Maybe a jury can be bombarded for weeks with social hystery news before his judicial process (same with legislator)? How difficult is to create some public outrage after feeding for weeks some specific idea so the regulator falls for some specific decision?

      Is democracy going to play a game of chess with an increasingly difficult level of AI, (or any unknown third party actor) that shapes the data that is brought to citizens in order to achieve the maximization of an unknown objective, be it monetary, political or even military?

      We see how some organizations that affect public policy like central banks or tax offices are increasingly deriving their reports from third parties that provide datasources. Who guarantees that some private datasource is in fact correct? Are those data source providers too centralized? What would happen if the data provided is dynamically allocated and generated in order to derive some specific reports given to decision makers? We are not talking about conclusions observed by limited amounts of data but oceans of data that grow exponentially and recursively reacts to previous iterations (or not, who knows?).

      Those that design those systems give maximum importance to the quality of the data because depending on how good the info you get, so it will be the conclusion? WHAT is the quality of the data that is being fed to our citizens? to our legislators? What democratic conclusions will come from that? Is there any plan B prepared?

      The digitalization has brought us also tools to fight against that uncertainty, with systems that with even zero knowledge (privacy) can proof with math that what is there is true and almost to thermodinamically impossibility that it has not been tampered with. It might not be easy to architect a foundation that guarantees that lobbying and decision making and the sources it bases its conclusions from are based on a system that in a mathematical way proves that there has been no tampering, that the players providing requests and information to be considered, etc are considered in an equitative way, that the datasources, opinions, votes, etc are cryptographically notarized. If we do not try to do it we might suffer hurricanes of data flows trying to dynamically test every part of the democratic process to maximize unknown gains being played by incresingly difficult participants (corporations, AI, other countries, ?).

      And the regulator speed might be too slow to react and not be gamed in its blindness of what thought as chaos and just random human interaction “as usual” but was not.
      Oh well that was too long, sorry about that.

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