Brussels: the kingdom of lobbies

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According to Novethic.

Between 12 000 and 20 000. This is the number of professional lobbyists in Brussels. According to the European Business Observatory, 60% of them work for companies compared to only 30% for national governments. Corporate lobbying is provided by four types of structures: company-specific representations, business associations, sectoral federations and independent lobbying companies. In total, no less than 950 European industrial interest groups are present in Brussels and around 300 multinationals. "We are recognized as official bodies and, to my knowledge, none seek to hide its activities," says Marc Devisscher, spokesman for CEFIC (European Council of Chemical Industry Federations), the largest federation of companies present in Brussels (see interview).

In fact, since the entry into force of the Single Act in 1987, lobbies are fully integrated into the Brussels landscape. Their aim is to influence the European institutions - first and foremost the Commission and the Parliament - to ensure that Community legislation serves or at least does not serve their interests. "We follow the work of the Commission, including the preparation of directives, and we give our opinion on the texts, says Carsten Dannöhl of Unice, the European Union bosses, Our approach is legitimate. In drafting good texts MEPs need the advice of all stakeholders and are often seeking advice. "

Amend Directives

The activity of the lobbies is divided into two major parts: watch and counseling. The first requires the lobbyist to keep abreast of current draft directives and to seek relevant information on topics of interest to their constituency. The second is to meet officials, MEPs and more generally European politicians to give them the opinion of the lobby on a particular text and, if necessary, to suggest changes. "It is not uncommon for pressure groups to even directly submit the amendments they want us to propose," says a deputy.

To achieve their ends, lobbyists share tasks according to their skills. Experts and consultants are generally distinguished. The former have technical knowledge and try to participate, as far upstream as possible, in the elaboration of European directives, especially at the time of writing the "Green Paper" and "White Paper" (preparatory texts for the directives). Their main interlocutors are the officials of the Commission. The latter are lobbyists in the primary sense of the term. Their main asset is their address book and their perfect knowledge of the workings of the European institutions. On the one hand, they help experts get in touch with key figures when preparing guidelines. On the other hand, when the texts pass before Parliament, they approach the most influential politicians to convince them to take better account of the interests of their pressure group.

It's clear ?

While lobbies boast of transparency, some politicians and NGOs refute this argument. The European Business Observatory, a Dutch NGO set up in 1997 to monitor the lobbying of multinationals, on the contrary ensures that it is very difficult to know how much the Commission is influenced and regrets that the European Union has not established itself regulations similar to those in the United States that force multinational companies to publish information about their lobbying activities. "But in any case, from a democratic point of view, the system of lobbies does not seem to us a good solution, notes Erik Wesselius of the European Observatory of Enterprises, In the" lobbycratie ", we pay to have money. influence and this reinforces the bureaucratic side of Europe. It would be better for European issues to have more room in the public debate. "

Another argument of anti-lobbies: the lack of counter-power. Businesses, NGOs, unions and humanitarian associations have few resources. According to the European Business Observatory, only 10% of lobbyists work for NGOs. For example, there are only a hundred or so in environmental organizations. "This imbalance is a problem," says Paul Lannoye, an ecologist MEP, "because companies always fund studies to justify their point of view, and NGOs can not do the same. "

Laurent Fargues
Posted On: 23 / 08 / 2004. source

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