EUROPE: Stealth Lobbyists Creep In

Publisher Name: 

May 9 (IPS) - The often cosy relationship between corporate lobbyists
and the Brussels bureaucracy was illustrated in the past few weeks as
several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) prepared to visit

Vidal Quadras Roca, the assembly's vice-president,
contacted a fellow MEP organising the trip to inform him that
participants could see first-hand projects in Lima run by British
Petroleum, the French private water firm Suez, and the Spanish
telecommunications giant Telefónica. All these companies, it
transpired, are represented by the International Association of
Business and Parliament, a shadowy body which has an office within the
Parliament's own building and can avail of facilities financed by the
European taxpayer.

Revelations that 'stealth lobbyists' have penetrated their way deep
into the corridors of power came at a delicate moment for the
Parliament. Those MEPs who were not jetting off to Latin America were
involved in a debate about how to tighten up the rules covering what
lobbyists may and may not do.

A significant breakthrough was made May 8 when the Parliament
officially urged that a mandatory register should be set up for the
estimated 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels, most of whom work for business
interests. Among the details that would have to be included in the
register would be a lobbyist's sources of funding and names of his or
her clients.

Transparency campaigners have applauded the Parliament's call
in principle, interpreting it as a clear message to the EU's executive,
the European Commission. Next month, the Commission is scheduled to
unveil its own blueprint for a register, and all the indications are
that it favours a voluntary one, with considerably less onerous
reporting requirements.

Yet the recommendation made by MEPs contains major loopholes. Law firms
that work for corporate clients, for example, would not have to
register their activities. This exemption was proposed by Klaus-Heiner
Lehne, who supplements his salary as a German MEP by working as a
partner in a law firm.

Paul de Clerck, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, argued
that the Parliament's own independence can be compromised when its
members have ties to business. "This outcome shows the need for the
Parliament to clean up its own house and introduce strong rules to
prevent conflicts of interest," he said.

In a recent book 'Der gekaufte Staat', German writers Kim Otto and
Sascha Adamek cited how industry lobbyists have found jobs within the
European Commission, where they have been able to bring direct
influence in shaping EU legislation.

The examples they cited included those of a staff member with
the leading accounting firm KPMG, who worked on a corporate taxation
dossier for the EU executive, and an employee with the chemicals
company BASF who worked with the Commission before moving to the German
ministry of economic affairs. The latter individual's salary was paid
by BASF, even though he was manning desks in public institutions.

Within Brussels, one of the best-known cases of the seemingly organic
ties between the EU institutions and businesses can be found in the
sleek offices of GPlus Europe. Of the 49 employees listed on this
public relations firm's website, 28 have worked for the European
Parliament, the Commission or for the Brussels embassies of the Union's
national governments.

GPlus has used the insider knowledge that its employees have of the EU
institutions as a selling point, helping it to win clients as
illustrious as Microsoft and Vladimir Putin; the former Russian
president hired its services in an effort to improve his image in the

The firm has been especially successful in poaching those
responsible for implementing the Commission's strategy on
communications. One recent recruit Gregor Kreuzhuber boasts on his
curriculum vitae of spending over a decade in the Commission -- where
he acted as its spokesman on agriculture and industry.

The register recommended by MEPs will initially only apply to lobbyists
who liaise with the Parliament itself. Some MEPs have said, though,
that they wish to reach an agreement with the other main EU
institutions so that they will introduce a similar system, also on a
mandatory basis.

Jo Leinen, a German Socialist MEP, said he hopes the register will be
operational several months before the next European Parliament
elections, scheduled for the summer of 2009. "Before the European
elections, do we want to tell citizens that Brussels is open and
transparent?" he said.

Ingo Friedrich, a German conservative, contended that the
register will be an "important step towards more transparency in
European legislation."

But Monica Frassoni, an Italian Green, said it is "absurd"
that lawyers working on EU affairs will not have to register. "Lawyers
play an increasingly important role in influencing policy in Brussels,
and they promote themselves as such on their own websites," she said.

AMP Section Name:Regulation