The European Parliament is currently considering a ban for some corporate lobbyists. The unprecedented move would strip lobbyists working for companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Amazon and Facebook of their parliamentary badges. It could also potentially remove them from the EU Transparency Register, blocking them from meeting with EU commissioners.
However, the ban would likely be temporary, and is only being considered as a punishment for multinational companies that have refused to appear before a special committee on tax shelters in the European Union. In addition, it is unclear how effective such a ban would be in practice as, even without their parliamentary badges, lobbyists could still enter the Parliament if they were invited as guests of an MEP.
Nevertheless, we had a comment from one of our readers, Tom, who supports a ban. Indeed, he believes that such a ban should be made permanent and extended to all lobbyists in Brussels, because access to politicians is so often based on how much money a given interest group can command:
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.
Not all of our commenters agree. Another reader, Daniela argued that it isn’t just corporate interests that lobby, but also charities, labour unions, civil society groups, NGOs, and academics:
In my opinion, lobby work is not a bad thing but… an essential part of the democratic process, as long 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.
Given that politicians are supposed to consider carefully the effects of policy, would they be doing their job properly if they refused to meet with lobbyists? Is a blanket ban even a realistic prospect? If big multinationals are banned or restricted, what about NGOs, trade unions, and civil society groups? And, as one of our commenters asks, where should the line between lobbying and public advocacy be drawn?
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) has published a guide to ethical lobbying in Brussels. It includes a suggested two-year “cooling off” period before former MEPs accept a job in the lobbying industry (an attempt to counter the so-called “revolving door” effect, which sees many politicians using their network of contacts to become lobbyists once they have left office). Would tougher rules along these lines be enough to restore public trust after some very damaging lobbying scandals?
There are an estimated 30’000 lobbyists in Brussels. 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 encouraged to sign up to, but it is not mandatory (though the European Parliament is pushing for it to be made so). We’ve collected some of the available estimates below into an infographic (and you can click on the image for a larger version).
Should companies be banned from lobbying politicians? Or is lobbying a necessary part of the democratic process? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!