New analysis published today by Transparency International reveals that the overwhelming majority of lobby meetings held by European Commissioners and their closest advisors are with representatives of corporate interests. This is just one of the findings from a new lobby monitoring tool launched today at www.integritywatch.eu.
Analysis of the 4,318 lobby meetings declared by the top tier of European Commission officials between December 2014 and June 2015 shows that more than 75% were with corporate lobbyists. This compares to 18% with NGOs, 4% with think tanks and 2% with local authorities. Google, General Electric and Airbus are some of the most active lobbyists at this level, with 25 to 29 meetings each. Google and General Electric are also some of the biggest spenders in Brussels, each declaring EU lobby budgets of around €3.5 million per year.
Of the 7,908 organisations who have voluntarily registered in the EU Transparency Register – the register of EU lobbyists – 4,879 seek to influence political decisions of the European Union on behalf of corporate interests. Exxon Mobil, Shell and Microsoft (all €4.5-5m) are the top three companies in terms of lobby budgets according to their declarations made to the EU Transparency Register.
“The evidence of the last six months suggests there is a strong link between the amount of money you spend and the number of meetings you get,” says Daniel Freund from Transparency International EU. “Those organisations with the biggest lobby budgets get a lot of access, particularly on the financial, digital and energy portfolios.”
The portfolios for Climate & Energy (487 meetings), Jobs & Growth (398), Digital Economy (366) and Financial Markets (295) currently receive most attention from lobbyists. The Commissioners in charge of the latter three – Finland’s Jyrki Katainen, UK’s Jonathan Hill and Germany’s Günther Oettinger also have particularly low numbers for meetings with civil society – 3, 3 and 2 respectively, representing between 4% and 8% of the total number of their declared meetings. While large global NGOs, such as WWF and Greenpeace, are in the Top 10 of organisations with most meetings, it is notable that meetings with civil society are often held as large roundtable events with multiple participants.
In November 2014, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker instructed his Commissioners to “ensure an appropriate balance and representativeness in the stakeholders they meet.”*
The data also reveals that 80% of the 7,821 organisations currently registered did not have a single meeting reported with a Commissioner or their teams, demonstrating the limitations of the European Commission’s new transparency provisions that only cover the highest ranking top 1% of EU officials and only 20% of the registered lobby organisations. Lower-level officials, such as the team negotiating the Free-Trade Agreement TTIP with the US, are not covered.
“The European Commission should be congratulated on providing this insight into lobbying of high-level officials, but this is just part of the picture. Officials are lobbied at all levels and greater transparency is required to reassure the public about the integrity of EU policy-making”, says Carl Dolan, Director of Transparency International EU. “All EU institutions should publish a “legislative footprint” – a public record of all lobby meetings and other input that has influenced policies and legislation.”
Transparency International EU also found that many organisations still remain absent from the register. This includes 14 of the 20 biggest law-firms in the world that all have Brussels offices, such as Clifford Chance, White & Case or Sidley Austin. 11 out of these 14 law firms have registered as lobby organisations in Washington DC where registration is mandatory.
“Much of the information that lobbyists voluntarily file with the lobby register is inaccurate, incomplete or outright meaningless,” says Freund. Over 60% of organisations that lobbied the European Commission on the EU-US trade agreement do not properly declare these activities. On the broad reform package of financial services entitled “Capital Markets Union”, many banks – including HSBC, BNP Paribas and Lloyds – that have had meetings on this topic fail to declare in the lobby register that they are active in this area.
The findings of EU Integrity Watch also reveal hundreds of completely meaningless declarations, with some organisations claiming to spend more than €100,000,000 on EU lobbying or having tens of thousands of lobbyists at their disposal. This demonstrates the need for more systematic checks and verification by the Commission and ultimately a mandatory register.