European money

Earlier this year, a former Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Ernst Strasser, was given a four-year jail sentence for accepting a bribe from a pair of lobbyists (in reality, two undercover journalists working for The Times) in return for making amendments to EU law. Three other MEPs implicated in the scandal were eventually cleared of wrongdoing by the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF), though one had already resigned.

In response to this affair (dubbed the “cash for amendments” scandal) the European Parliament brought in a stricter Code of Conduct for MEPs, requiring them to declare any payments they receive, as well as any potential conflicts of interests. In addition, a new “Transparency Register” was set up, and it currently lists the activities and sources of funding of 5870 organisations in Brussels.

However, critics argue that the Code of Conduct is not sufficiently enforced and that signing-up to the Transparency Register is still voluntary. So, are rules around lobbying tough enough in Brussels? And how exactly does lobbying affect how European laws are made?

Many of our readers are extremely cynical on this front. Andy, for example, sent us the following comment:

citizen_icon_180x180Politicians often come from the view (via lobbying) of what business wants (i.e. to make money) rather than what society actually needs (i.e. empowerment towards a more enriched life).

To get a reaction, we put Andy’s comment to Thierry Philipponnat when we interviewed him earlier this year. Philipponnat is Secretary General of Finance Watch, an organisation was set up in 2011 to “act as a public interest counterweight to the powerful financial lobby“. How would he respond to Andy?

philipponnat-speaksUnfortunately, what Andy says is often the case. It’s important to understand that what’s in the public interest is not merely a sum of all private interests; the public interest is more than that. Private interests will always try to defend themselves, and it’s normal and not necessarily a bad thing, but policy-makers should also have the broader public interest in mind when they are deciding policy.

Another cynical comment came from Paul, who feared the situation was getting worse:

citizen_icon_180x180I think we’re moving into a world where large corporations and very wealthy individuals – e.g. fund managers and private equity investors – seem to have more and more control over the political agenda.

Are things as bad as Paul suggests? What is the impact of lobbying on the democratic process?

philipponnat-speaksWell, it depends a bit on the specific country setting; the intensity of lobbying varies from place to place. Globally, however, what Paul says is very close to reality. The interests at stake are enormous, and a lot of money is spent on trying to influence the legislative agenda… This can be anything from the financing of a re-election campaign through to guaranteeing a future career plan (the so-called “revolving door” from politics into business).

Clearly, the intensity of lobbying that is going on in Brussels is very high, but in other parts of the world the situation is even worse. Being elected a Senator in the US costs, on average, ten million dollars, whereas being elected an MEP costs perhaps tens of thousands of euros, and political parties can often take care of that cost themselves.

But is lobbying necessarily a bad thing? We had a comment from Nikolai pointing out that, as long as lobbying is done transparently, it should perhaps be considered part of the democratic process:

citizen_icon_180x180One man’s lobbying is another man’s advocacy, depending upon the level of transparency involved.

How would Philipponnat respond?

philipponnat-speaksI agree with Nikolai, lobbying is not necessarily bad. It is natural to expect that people and organisations will want to plead for their interests. However, first of all, it has to be balanced; policy-makers have to hear both sides of the argument. And, of course, the process needs to be transparent and not secretive. If it’s balanced and transparent, then we don’t necessarily have a problem.

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What do YOU think? Do lobbyists have too much influence over European law? Or is lobbying, as long as it is transparent and balanced, simply part of the democratic process? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we'll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

  1. avatar
    Marie Barani

    it depends: it’s normal that the EU listen to European companies (except banks). But not to American and Asian. Nevertheless, US and Asia firms are lobbying better than EU firms; because they have more money. And that’s not normal. The Eu should listen to ITS companies.

  2. avatar
    Dany Haas

    wrong question! Are politicians strong enough to resist lobbying? Answer: NO. We miss strong, visionary politicians.

    • avatar
      Limbidis Adrian

      Hasn’t been so lately.
      ACTA lobbied for – it took huge uproar to get it ditched and it is still out there…lurking below the surface.
      Now this “free trade” that if you read through the lines it is APPALLING to working people.
      It has “investor rights”, they can SUE government for not being allowed to pollute for profit for crying out loud !

  3. avatar
    Thierry Masson

    The EU institutions need a real budget for them to get more internal expertise and depend less from external sources.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      Please refrain from taking bizarre substances [not necessarily illegal perhaps] whilst commenting on websites else you may well appear deluded.

      If the EU cannot manage itself as-is, how on Earth do you think adding more money to their coffers would improve matters.

      The EU project is failing because of decades of corruption – it needs to sort its act out first BEFORE being given any more money.

  4. avatar
    Worldwide Lyme Protest - Let Europe know

    True, it is impossible to get access to EU institutions without a strong industry behind you. We are trying the Health Committee of the EP – all member had been contacted twice since January – and the Commission / DG SANCO. No success, no response, nothing! The only advise I get informally is to invite a MEP out for an expensive restaurant. We are talking about sick and disabled people and european interest in awareness raising. No comment!

  5. avatar
    Ernest Dautovic

    Watch the doc-movie ‘the brussel business’ and you will see that EU executes what big industries wants, from the colossal infrastructure projects, to the Euro via the Single Market

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      AGREED! It is truly frightening how Brussels is dominated by big business in plain unaccountable sight.

  6. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    Without controls LOBBYING CORRUPTS!!!

    All LOBBY organisations should declare and register EVERY political contact they make IN FULL.

    All LOBBY organisations MUST INCLUDE the word LOBBY in their name.

    All THINK TANKS MUST INCLUDE the word THINK TANK in their name.

    All MEPs and all EU staff MUST officially register any contact with LOBBY groups or THINK TANKS.

    ALL MEPs and EU staff MUST provide details of ALL their financial transactions, bank statements and credit cards for public scrutiny etc EVERY YEAR.

    If the EU does the above then it will have improved its very poor reputation [a la corruption and integrity] somewhat.

  7. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Os deputados Europeus e os deputados dos governos da UE devem fornecer detalhes de todas as suas transações financeiras de cada ano e também funcionarios da UE devem resgistar oficialmente qualquer contato com grupos de pressão ou grupos de reflexão Porque uma das maiores dificuldades da democracia é a qualidade dos Sir. que exerssem e poder do estado e os seus funcionarios

  8. avatar
    Petre Cristian

    Funding for projects submitted by Romanian NGOs should be checked / managed by NGOs in the EU.

  9. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    if there is transparency and people know who those lobbyist groups are, or what they do and are aiming for, then I do not object to their existence.. The thing is, that nobody knows who they are, who they work for, what they aim for, and how their actions will affect us.. Do whatever you do out in the open and then I would not object…

  10. avatar

    When I came in Bruxelles, close to the Europe institution you have a lot of private attorneys, lawyer business, counselor leader in lobbying field.

    The commission is physically and intellectually nearer of the private sectors than the academic institutions or civil societies. It’s a fact. It’s also a question of means. The lobbying activities in the civil society or for an academic institutions are oftentimes the fact of volunteers who are not the best trained or the best speakers.

    And when we see financial consultant’s Power Point, talk with lawyers who promote their interests together they tell you how to do five day a week, it’s normal to think they’re probably rights.

  11. avatar
    Paul X

    There is a difference between lobbying and what Ernst Strasser did which is basically corruption and I guarantee he is not the only MEP taking back-handers
    I work in a manufacturing company and if anyone is found to be taking personal gain from a supplier to win a contract they would be sacked on the spot and the same should apply to MEP’s, they get a fat enough salary as it is without topping it up
    As for lobbying it can take many forms, just wait and see what happens if the EU ever has the bottle to properly reform the CAP, the streets of France will become blocked by militant farmers and their tractors demanding their subsidies remain, who is going to stop that form of lobbying?

  12. avatar
    Nikolaos Sotirelis

    Democracy=Citizens’ domination!
    This that you are talking about is lobbyistocracy. Has nothing to do with democracy!

  13. avatar
    Ing. Mag. Erich Scheffl

    Dear all,
    Lobbying is done by financial strong groups. Therefore, and because it is obvious that weak, or “small” (e.g. also ill, old people in hospitals, etc.) people have no Lobbying they are pressed into worse situations. Therefore there is a vital need for a Power Balance. Please support our System for a better World, to avoid dumping in social and environmental issues. – World Wide Social Economical Ecological Partnership. Thank you for each activity which goes into this direction.
    There must be a similar velocity between real economy and financial economy. Otherwise we will not be able to stabilise current societies change.
    Best Regards,
    Ing. Mag. Erich Scheffl

  14. avatar
    Ing. Mag. Erich Scheffl

    Lobbying is inequitable. It privileges and protects capital, and powerful people. Therefore you may expect social riots, because there is no moral in the economies. Sorry for being so honest. But Lobbying is only for good organised, powerful interest groups. Poor people will not organise. Therefore it leads to Power imbalances. Please help us to make a Power balance.

  15. avatar

    Lobbying is actually contributing to democracy in Europe. It is wrong to assume that policy-makers are continuously bribed and spoiled with gifts from the so-called fat cats walking down the streets of Brussels. Of course, some companies possess expert knowledge on how certain directives and regulations should be formulated in their advantage. In turn, there are a lot of fat cats with different opinions. However, more important is the fact that e.g. the European Commission surrounds itself by more independent and critical organisations and institutions (e.g. environmental organisations and research institutions) to balance out the possible fat cats opinion on the matter. On top of that, there plenty opportunities to actually stake your claim against it.

    So, yes, lobbying effects European law; however, does it always negatively effect it? Also, lobbyists don’t have monopoly on knowledge, so nothing is stopping you or anyone else to actually stake your claim as well. Nonetheless, the general public is simply not interested in keeping track of the massive number rules and regulations that is proposed by the EC. Lastly, if there is something really wrong with to be adopted regulations or directives, haven’t we set up a European Court of justice to actually guard provisions regarding unfair competition, non-discrimination, and the environment (to name but a few)? Still, every policy-maker that allows him/herself to stop thinking for him/herself and allow fat cats to think for them in return for bribes, should face charges and buy their own single ticket home.

  16. avatar
    Ing. Mag. Erich Scheffl

    i read now through some debates. Why shall we debate? You see where Europe is now. Unemployment, bad economic perspective, and why. Would anybody change the System? And why? Last 20 years nobody cared about people in EU. Why will this change? Not voluntarily. Only because the economy will cannibalise. And this is what happened (was organised by lobbyism). Let us think a better approach. I really would appreciate it.

  17. avatar
    Paul Reichberg

    Lobbying is sadly inevitable in a capitalist society. Economic interest has always been ruling the world.

    • avatar

      Do you have an alternative which is more effective, transparent, lean, and takes into account the non-territorial character of most of our current problems? The fact to the matter is that Europe is not fully capitalist, the meaning of economic interest or economy is not clear at all, and lastly, the markets that are operating within these economies were never really the same nor an evolution of all the markets present in any distant past anywhere around the world. Hence, assuming they ruled the world is a massive overstatement. Rather worry about e.g. the local building contractors roaming municipalities in member-states actually changing your direct and tangible surroundings.

  18. avatar
    Milan Kreuschitz

    In a system like the EU, where policy is mostly about economic governance and pragmatic solutions without any larger visionary policy or philosophy behind it, lobbying is crucial for making good policy – since most of EU policy is centered on the single market and its economic prosperity. When you make economic policy, the opinion of economic players becomes crucial to create good policy.

    I’m not saying this system is great. But it is what it is (and Member states consistently resist putting larger social/societal political competence onto the EU level)

    But there are mechanisms in place to controll lobbying. The claim of some posters here that lobbyism is fully intransparent is nonsense. Brussels has a transparancy register, where all lobbyist must register and declare what they do and how much they spend. We really have to look into further legal frameworks to create even better transparency still and to make this information not just available – but to also make the European population aware that this is very relevant and that there are sources to research who lobbies for what, where and when.

  19. avatar
    emmanuele cangianelli

    Transparent lobbying is the meaning of democracy.

  20. avatar
    Sara Goldberger

    As said: it should be open and transparent. And let me add it should be so across the board which isn’t the case in today’s system where some are more equal than others.

    Today if meet with a lobbyist from the e.g. the tobacco industry you have to report this in writing. Not a problem. But if the same MEP meet with an anti-tobacco lobbyist this can go unnoticed. I find that plain wrong.

    My two cents:

  21. avatar
    catherine benning

    Here are the lobbyists and the money being revealed by those in our House of Lords. They are on the fiddle, and so are they in Europe. Two thousand a day one is quoted as asking for. Do you feel an average organization or person looking to make a dent in our law makers can compete with that.

    And what are they doing in Europe?

    • avatar


  22. avatar

    Well lobbying aids those who take part in it. I’d like to believe we can rely on the integrity of the MEPs we vote in on this, though how would you measure it? I like the idea of more transparency though only if this doesn’t distract them from actually doing their day job! Perhaps there can be more communication about MEPs meeting your average Tom, Dick and Harry for their input.
    Not a fan of lobbyist groups but all voices have a right to be heard. If an MEP is found to be giving an unfair advantage to a group however I’d like there to be heavy and public repercussions as per the Times saga.

  23. avatar
    Per Karlberg

    Lobbyism is no problem with politicians that have a clear political view and need more background info on specific topics. It boils down to our responsibility as electorate to engage before election and follow the politicians during their period in office! Don’t forbid the once trying to do just that because you yourself are to lazy!

    • avatar

      Mhm, wait… why don’t these politicians ask researchers in this area? Maybe one that is rather right wing, one that is rather left wing and one that’s in the middle of political spectrum? Wouldn’t that make more sense than asking businesses (mostly large corporations) with their very particular interests?

  24. avatar
    Karel Van Isacker

    Lobbying is good, but the food lobbyist are pushing it too far, with getting over 50% of agriculture subsidies…

  25. avatar

    I believe taking money from corporations or inviduals should lead to year-long jail sentences (at least as bad as murder or rape), as betraying the trust and the people who have voted for an MEP is one of the worst crimes possible (in fact, it’s destroying our democracy).

    In addition I would suggest other measures, as recommended by “LobbyControl”, such as a 3 year break, before someone could change sides (revolving door).

  26. avatar
    Nikolaos Sotirelis

    I’m shocked that some of the commenters are supporting the existence of lobbyists, even under certain circumstances!
    Is really this their idea of democracy, equal chances and State control? Pitty!

  27. avatar

    Sure lobbying is great, just like america where a politician can be bought on every corner. You got an itch , hey for a few euros/dollars thell scratch.
    Gutless politicians will always be found by ruthless companies to do thier bidding.
    One big corrupt EU, hey lets have an whos the most corrupt contest, the EUSSR or the yanks, ill bet its a tie!!!!
    Labour reform (cheap labour) , no democracy, hi unemployment , downward spiraling economies , people sleeping under bridges , doctors coming back from africa to help the growing amounts of poor people in the eu countries,and they tell us its all fine ?
    The people of europe are waking up and are starting to figure things out , and in the next round of elections the brussels boys will get the boot. I say good riddence. Dragi can go back to chasemorgan, along with monti and his buddies,and for gods sake take dijselblunder to , we in the netherlands dont want him back.

  28. avatar
    catherine benning

    The companies or corporations pay a great deal of money for favouritism, they wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t fruitful. It gives them access that ordinary folk don’t have. Therefore, it is undemocratic.You cannot claim equality and fairness and then discriminate on the grounds of how big your money tree is.

    Lobbyists are bent on disproportionate advantage. The interests of the wealthy few against that of the regular citizen. Which is why we are coming out on the bottom on every matter.

  29. avatar
    Daniel Tanahatoe

    Democracy is rule by the people. In any European society there’s next to democratic government – ruled by the people – such a thing as private business as well as civil society. These are in my opinion vital elements of democracy and lobbying is one of the elements that express interests of segments in our society. Then it’s up to the politicians to make a well thought decision in the general interest.

  30. avatar
    Annija Martinsone

    We can see that lobbyism are all over EU. Now it’s legal, because people receive more if they are paying less. nobody isn’t complaining about aim. Same situation is in USA and nobody is complaining.

  31. avatar
    Dr Daniela Peukert

    In my opinion, lobby work is not a bad thing but a tricky one. It is an essential part of the democratic process, as longs as it is transparent, balanced and independent from wealth. I was a scientist for nearly ten years and didn’t agree with many regulations affecting my research. However, your voice won’t be heard as an individual, it is impossible to engage with the EU during your daily job life. I am now working for a Society (NGO) that gives thousands of members (including academia, charity, industry and research) a unified voice in specific issues…a voice that will be heard.

  32. avatar

    I completely agree with the article. Lobbying is necessary because it connects the policy makers to european people.
    But the power of each lobbying organisation should be regulated so that lobbyism won’t become ‘the law of the richest’.
    I also think that the big problem is that industrial and financial lobbies have way too much more power than citizens lobbies. Citizens lobbies should be more powerful and more famous, more connected to european people. That would equalize (I don’t really think this is possible, but that’s the goal) the lobbying forces and also change the way people see European institutions.
    European citizens should be a real lobbying force, as industry and finance are.

  33. avatar

    when you speak of them, they wil be there…we can read many justifications above. But we cannot read the same people speak about outcome of this way during decennies of lobbying in UE in making Democraty becoming the toy of financial markets and a gadget for social outcome. In defending Lobbying they defend just their poor job, they make what they do along the year: work for their interest…

  34. avatar

    Politician use private hand to gain huge money and power. The private sector should be under the jurisdiction of strong anti-graft policy.

  35. avatar
    Corporate Europe Observatory

    More than two thirds of lobbyists in Brussels work on behalf of business interests, while civil society and trade unions remain dramatically under-represented.

    This corporate capture of EU decision-making leads to policies that exacerbate social injustice or damage the environment. Think of why the financial sector is not better regulated… A successful lobby by the financial industry is the answer. And this same logic applies to many other laws and decisions.

    For instance, corporate lobbies like Bussiness Europe have a big influence in the unfair measures taken as a response to the crisis; giants of water industry are pushing for water privatisation; and so on…

    More information:
    Lobby Planet
    Corporate Europe Observatory

  36. avatar

    Transparent Lobbying yes, no more lobbying behind the walls of a little room in Brüssel.

  37. avatar

    Lobbying is not balanced as private company that acts in their have got the resources that others don’t have.

    A lot of negotiations are also behind closed doors and not public.
    The money lobbies spent should be made public and maybe regulated.
    Everything MEP’s and lobbyist do should be made easily accessible over the internet for everyone to see. Also how much MEP’s earn on the side. Inclusive live feeds from negotiations and discussions. 24 h Surveillance as politicians have no problem to surveil the public as well

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