Last year, we looked at how lobbying affects democracy in the European Union. It sparked an interesting discussion, with most people fairly critical but with one or two speaking up on behalf of lobbying as an important part of our democracies. For example, Daniela sent in a comment arguing that lobbying helps to amplify the voices of individuals who would otherwise not be heard:

citizen_icon_180x180In my opinion, lobby work is not a bad thing but… 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, charities, industry and research) a unified voice in specific issues… a voice that will be heard.

In the run-up to the European Parliament elections in May (less than 100 days from now!) the political parties are all keen to come out strongly in favour of greater transparency. If you are already convinced by a particular party on this issue, you can show your support for them by voting in our Debating Europe Vote 2014!

To get a reaction to Daniela’s point, we spoke to Hans-Peter Martin, an Austrian MEP and journalist who was elected to the European Parliament as an independent candidate promising to campaign for greater transparency. How would he respond to Daniela?

We also had a similar defence of lobbying sent in from Jasper, who argued that the issue of lobbying was much more complex than is often portrayed:

citizen_icon_180x180Lobbying actually contributes 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… More important is the fact that, for example, 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 are plenty of opportunities to actually stake your claim against [a new law].

What would Hans-Peter Martin say to Jasper?

Of course, not all of our readers believed that lobbying was currently functioning as a positive and integral part of the democratic process. For example, we had a comment come in from Tom arguing that serious reforms were needed:

citizen_icon_180x180The first and most important step the EU must take [to improve democracy] is to firmly reduce the privileged access of industry to EU policy-making. The [voice of citizens] stands in stark contrast with the ease with which industry representatives can make their voice heard. They are just invited on a daily basis in all EU institutions. And that’s the real insult to the European public.

We took Tom’s comment to Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German MEP and part of the Freie Demokratische Partei (which sits with the  Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament). Chatzimarkakis announced last April that he would be quitting German politics at the end of the European Parliament’s current term in order to stand as part of a citizens’ list in Greece in the European elections in May 2014. How would he respond to Tom?

Jorgo-ChatzimarkakisTom is right, lobbying indeed plays an enormous role. But it’s not only companies and industries that try to influence decision-makers; it’s also Greenpeace, trade unions and others. For example, I myself have been aggressively lobbied by activists on the ‘good’ side, so lobbying definitely plays a role for all sides.

But how can we escape from this situation where lobbyists have undue influence over Members of the European Parliament? I believe we have to equip these MEPs with more expertise and a greater capacity to deal with lobbyists and determine the facts. If you compare the staff of a Member of the European Parliament with a Member of the House of Representatives in the USA, the difference is stark. Where MEPs have three assistants that deal mainly with outside organisations, in the House of Representatives each Member of Congress has twenty to forty members of staff. That gives him or her access to much more detailed research in order to deal with decision-making. That doesn’t mean we have to give MEPs more money, but I do want to see more independent sources of information; that might be more staff for the European Parliament as a whole which Members are then able to draw on for research. But, definitely, this would weaken the influence of lobbyists.

It’s difficult to get accurate statistics for the amount of lobbying that takes place in the EU, but there are some estimates available. The EU has a “Transparency Register” that NGOs, businesses, trade unions, think tanks, academic institutions, religious organisations, etc. are encourageed to sign up to, but it is not mandatory. We’ve collected some of the available estimates below into an infographic (and you can click on the image for a larger version).


Does lobbying help amplify the voices of individuals who would otherwise go unheard? Is it a positive and integral part of the democratic process? Or does it give undue access and influence to wealthy corporations and groups? And would equipping the European Parliament with more research staff help reduce the reliance of MEPs on outside organisations for information? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

Vote 2014

Voting is closed in our Debating Europe Vote 2014! The results are now in, so come and see what our readers thought!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – European Parliament

48 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Sophie Rajto

    Lobbying is a powerful tool which can create a more proportional representation in decision making processes!

    • avatar
      Gabriela Lipska

      proportional to one’s financial capacity doesn’t mean fair, just and protecting interests of all people and planet

  2. avatar
    Panos Mentesidis

    lobbying? i am against it! one look at the USA and even a dumb person can see how bad lobbying is. powerful companies will infiltrate the political system even more and this will deffinately make conditions worse for the average EU citizen and the impact of lobbying in our environment will be catastrophic, with all that lobbying against legislation.

  3. avatar
    catherine benning

    That is a broad question. Lobbying by whom and for what?

    Some who lobby are doing so for the benefit of society in general, others, and unfortunately for us all, the ones with the most cash to splash and bribe, are evil corporations whose only intention is to screw us all.

    So, the term lobby and what it means is a means for all of us to plead for our cause one way or another. However, it has been abused and politicians involved have not been trustworthy, therefore, as another poster wrote, it has to be open and all dealings regarding said lobby made available to all.

    End bribery and corruption and that way, lobbying will be cleaner and more effective in getting us all what we want and need.

  4. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Lobbying from bing companies certainly isn’t!! We need more transparency on this so we’ll know who is who and what do they want plus how all this will affect us!

  5. avatar
    Pedro Redondeiro

    nop… Lobbying and Democracy are two diferent things! While the lobbying tries to influence decisions on it’s favour disregarding the common good, democracy fight for the common good! ;)

  6. avatar
    Nikolai Holmov

    One man’s lobbying is another man’s advocacy. What matters is that lobbying is transparent and recorded/documented rather than opaque and and left to “recollection” should shenanigans be suspected at a future date that were not entirely legitimate.

    If done with integrity by all concerned it is nothing more than part of a democratic process.

  7. avatar
    Chris Morrison

    Lets first get it straight what we mean by lobbying in the first place. Direct access to those in power is a fundamental of democracy. Remove it and whatever else you may choose to call your form of government, it is not what most would call representative, and certainly not what most people would call a democracy. Because it is becoming increasingly apparent that the real decisions about things are being taken by an unelected commission, people already feel disconnected from any say in this to begin with, so the only part of this apparatus which has any democratic accountability, the Parliament is starting this game 5-0 down to begin with. My view is that all lobbying to the commission is a matter which ought to be COMPLETELY transparent if the commission is to have any credibility at all, since spin and graft would simply take over as the normal way of doing things, and money and political leverage would simply be the only voices heard, and NOTHING could be done via the democratic process to stop or even check it. Concerning lobbying Parliament a similar problem arises, but at least there is some democratic remedy against graft and abuse.

  8. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    The eurocracy (MEPs, civil servants etc) and ALL lobbying groups MUST be holier than thou.

    Transparently, visibility and accountability must be enhanced before lobby groups and the eurocracy can be part-trusted.

  9. avatar
    Andrew Lally

    no, it’s bad for EU citizens. Politicians are there to serve EU citizens first and foremost, not to serve corporate or institutional interests. The vast majority of individuals in the EU cannot afford the time or the money to scrutinise the volumes of legislation that affect their lives, so to level the playing field, lobbying should be banned, especially from monied interests.

  10. avatar
    George Bekatoros

    Lobbying actually strengthens & enhances democracy! Lobbying enables all issue stakeholders & constituents to offer to power holders expert advice & information on the issues. It further enhances public debate. Yes lobbying exerts policy influence. However it this is done on the merit of the opinions expressed! I strongly disagree with all those who lightly think that lobbying inhibits or endangers democracy or the Public Interest.

  11. avatar
    Gatis Gailitis

    Lobbying is great but it’s also a powerful tool for foreign governments and coorp to push their interests through European politics. We need transparency and neglect anything that isn’t in interests of the people.

  12. avatar

    The lobbying of MEP’s is if above board and transparent OK . Where we have a problem is the lobbying of the unelected and unaccountable commission where we all know is where the power is . They then put forward legislation that has been bought and paid for..

  13. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Precisamos de mais transparencia dentro do Parlamento Europeu e dos estados membros

  14. avatar
    Julia de Padilla

    It’s dangerous for ANY country’s democracy!!! No I don’t think it’s good!!! On the contrary…it shuts out the people’s opinion….it’s rich people’s bribery..NOT democratic at all!!!

  15. avatar
    Julia de Padilla

    George Bekatoros, you are so mistaken & really have the wrong idea what lobbying is all abt…there’s nothing democratic abt it!!!

  16. avatar
    Julia de Padilla

    You’re so right Panos Mentesidis…I’m North American & believe me I know how wrong this is!!!

  17. avatar
    Julia de Padilla

    The EU is not democratic at all…it’s a total dictatorship!!! Europe was much better off before…first of all because…Europe is a continent of different countries with different languages…not states with one language alone…

    • avatar
      Limbidis Arian

      “Was better before” !?
      The countless WARS for imperialism before?
      WHEN was it “better before !?

    • avatar

      When did the EU ever try to make Europeans speak one language? Besides not all European states have one language (The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain…)

    • avatar

      Limbidis Arian, in 50 years, people like you will say things like ‘it was better when we had the EU’.

      Liberty shall prevail, the EU shall be destroyed, by any means necessary and no matter how long it takes. Dissidents against the Soviet Union showed us the way.

  18. avatar
    Limbidis Arian

    Lobbying as it is understood now is done by PRIVATE interests ( corporations and the rich ) and it is “legalized corruption” in the USA.
    So, no. It is not good for democracy of the EU.

    BUT…if we take the term to mean people’s groups advocating for changes, then the waters muddle and in this case such “lobbying” becomes benefic.

    All in all i’d say NO. Criminalize lobbying.

  19. avatar

    There are points to be made for both sides…
    The possibility of accessing politicians gives citizens the possibility to reach those who represent them, at the same time however it makes it possible for NGO’s and businesses to acess politicians.

    Lobbying can support better decisions because knowledge of industries can help to develop better policy. But business might also abuse their influence to push politicians to do whatever helps them make more money instead of whatever helps them support citizens.
    Lobbying can give a voice to groups that otherwise remain unheard through NGO’s. But the question remains wheter all groups can find someone represent their interests.

    So there is good and bad in lobbying, the question is whether the bad is bad enough to eliminate the good. Or is there an option to try and minimise the bad while we keep the good?

    I think transparancy is a very important first step, what happens when all is transparant? Can the media then check who get what from whom and in that way check whether politicians remain open to opinions from all sides.

    • avatar

      Yeah whatever…any argument as to “why” ?
      Or it just is because the Daily Mail told you so?

  20. avatar
    Sérgio Costa Araújo

    It depends: if made by big companies acting in key areas important for the common good and that can affect consumers bets interests (e.g. food, energy, etc), than certainly not! If we talk about all the persons and NGO?s that daily do lobbying in matters like poverty fight, children rights approach to the Union decisions or to prevent, for example, the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement? then I would agree and assume its benefits!

  21. avatar

    It seems that lobbying brings inequality among the people of Europe when ideas are in competition. And people are disadvantaged and not justly treated. And since economy is becomming less diversified and dependant on strong centers decisions this brings up new imbalances. If economy prosperity would be more balanced and us people would have more insight into vision and more open opportunities this would not present the problem. But since the daily life some of us bring worries and try to establish life balance and prosperity for our famillies through our work the changes in prosperity ( more worries, daily fear, lower incomes, less opportunity for work ) the lobbying presents as aditional distrust. Specially because those are affecting people’s life , their daaily job, survival and trust into system.

  22. avatar
    Laszlo Nagy

    Well, they say Brussels has the second largest amount of lobbyists after Washington. It might not hurt the European democracies too much, since the main legislative body is the Council of Ministers, a.k.a. Council of the European Union.

    Anyway, long ago in an article about lobbies I read about an old case, about putting down some wild animals because of horse passport regulations. The only thing I found about it on the net is one article,
    The issue was probably solved, but anyone might know how?

    Lobbying might be benefical for those countries, that have this element in their political culture, but it is still harder for countries that doesn’t have lobby traditions, at least not in a not-that-corrupt manner. Differences in this area might lead to economical inequalities.

  23. avatar
    Vicky Cann

    Lobbying has a role to play in democracies but right now, corporate lobbyists dominate policy-making in Brussels, and yes often they are able to do so because of a lack of capacity within the EU institutions. Lobbying is dominated by money (ie lobby staff and resources): the more money you have, the more successful you are able to be. Witness the food and drink industry that is thought to have spent up to one billion euros in successfully opposing the traffic-light food labelling scheme.

    Whether it is through access to Commission advisory groups, the revolving door recruitment of EU insiders by lobby firms, the wining and dining of MEPs and decision-makers or other tactics, the EU institutions need serious reform to tackle the problem of excessive lobbying.

    Full lobby transparency would at least reveal the power of lobbyists and would also be likely to prevent unethical and excessive lobbying. It is essential that we know who is lobbying who, on what issues and how much they are spending doing so.

    The EU’s lobby register is a first step, but until it is made mandatory it will always be inadequate to the job. The EU’s institutions should introduce other measures to ensure that corporate Europe becomes democratic Europe: publishing lists of all lobby meetings held; refusing to meet with or offer privileges to unregistered lobbyists; introducing tougher conflict of interest and revolving door rules; and proactively publishing many more documents within the policy-making process.

  24. avatar

    It is still the question why there are the needs for non-transparent lobbying?

    And what are the allowed standard ways for lobbying?

    1. Politician professionals in Europe parliament and other bureaucrats on European level suppose to build on their own personalities to be able to percieve in very wide domains. And on the other way to be aware of risks, hazards, potential victims and at the same time see the side effects and suggestions for management of such side effects. For example influence of some industrial standards that make life of urban people more expensive and even more unbearable

    2. How is public interest followed in every lobbying, how is protecting traditional life or balance in some typical society
    What are agains side effects and how people are allowed freedom and
    dignity and responsibility.

    3. What are transitional side effects in victims who pay the highest price for transition, how theire sacrifice for transition is going to be compensated or
    give them compensation if they are the target to be transformed, removed or
    sacrificed for the goal of some other community or majority?

    4. The position that the one should sacrifice for the good of majority that is involved in massive exclusion of the people from the labour market, from the prosperity or health maintenance, educational process on various elements of discrimination:
    – age…younger starting generation and generations that burnt out because of previous efforts to European idea and now put in backyard without the concept of
    refreshing their creativity and oldest people who could be creative part
    but they are suppose to be get rid off.
    As matter of fact noble modern European forms of Holocaust that is hiding
    forms of neglecting, mobbing, excluding people…these are seeds that are comming from non-transparent lobbying culture.

    – religion
    People sometimes are trying to survive based on the faith manifested through
    spiritual traditions or religious institution.
    A lot of negativities were caused on this behalf. But to middle class or
    lower class people from traditional values religion is not meant power or
    influence.But just the sanctuary. Of course religious insititutions suppose
    to ( have to ) give up of lobbying

    – corporational lobbying
    History showed us how this kind of lobbying developed corruptive culture
    even in developed strong democracy country traditions.

    – NGO lobbying

    To find the way and models where there is no need for involving civil inicatives
    that improves public and urban life or contribute to living in the rural areas
    that those ideas be presented on public medias ( internet, public TV workshops,
    local communities formalisation of protocol for iniatives, their acceptance and
    assesment for public interest )..

  25. avatar

    A democracia só existe na União Europeia, quando todos
    os Estados-Membros foram democráticos!

  26. avatar

    In a ideal society political representatives who are decions makers or
    initiative proposers would be able to perceive whole domains of the challenge: all influenced people, side effects, priorities, risks, management of risks in a friendly was for all influenced parties, certainty in time dimensions when priorities demands compromises and one community group suffers ( sponsors ) the priority of another community group.
    So in non-ideal society such person ( bureacrat/representative/decision maker ) is not able to percieve whole reality of his respponsibility so he needs advisers/councelors/technical predispositions.

    When such advising tool is turning into the initiative of solution offerer ( product, service ) for adapting political decision with jumping over the citizen’s needs and overlook there free will in decision seems we come to the area close to that public is sponsoring the non-transparent appearances of behaviour. Seems that extreme of such appearances was Holocuast in 30s and 40s. In the book about Hitler is described that on Chrystal Night all damaged stores and property that were destroyed and were subject of insurance in insurance companies had to be payed as insurance fee. But not to the owners but to the state ( institution ). Guess such absurd act could be manifested to such a escalated level as the result of the sets of small lobbying steps that were not transparent and masqueraded behind the chaos of partial interests that at last brings up total chaos and collapse of the system. Could it be learnt something from such historical experience?

  27. avatar

    Is lobbying GOOD for democracy in the European Union?

    Lobbying ain’t good at all. It should be banned from any institution at any level. Why? you might ask. Because is the very source of corruption. Look like an unfair illegal practice of getting bribed by big guys to support their interests at the decision level. What kind of question is that anyway ?

  28. avatar

    must be good for the politicians

  29. avatar

    for the politicians must be ! thats a very strange question !

  30. avatar
    Tom Teasdale

    Even with total transparency lobbying cannot be fair when the big money organisations can afford permanent staff contacting MEPs all the time. All personal lobbying should be banned unless an official committee asks for ALL interested parties to attend. Otherwise all lobbying should be by mail only which would give each party an equal chance of presenting their case.

  31. avatar

    I do think lobbying theoretically improves democracy and this is true of all political systems I can think of… but in the EU since lobbying is so vast and can be dominated by companies that have a lot of funds and deep pockets. Also, I think that lobbying in the EU is a complex process and often depends on ‘who you know’. I think lobbying is good. I think it is important for the chance to effect policy. But in practice its has flaws. Summation: good but not sufficient alone to secure democracy within the EU.

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