A tour in the EU lobby world

Who influences the decision-making in the European Union? And how? Welcome to the complex – and often shady – world of lobbies. While the Brussels EU bubble can be perceived as an unclear ghost entity, it is actually a solid reality: estimations count 25,000 lobbyists revolving around the EU institutions, and their activities deserve a closer look.

As today EU decision-makers meet to negotiate on the upcoming reform of the EU’s Transparency Register, it is now all the more important to shed light on how lobby groups work in Brussels.

Indeed, in so many different policy areas it is big business which lobbies against public interest policy-making in favour of its own narrow, self-interest and private profits! And too many decision-makers in Brussels provide privileged access to business-linked lobbyists.

That is why civil society has long pushed for a more ambitious Transparency Register, as explained in a recent policy letter by ALTER-EU, Civil Society Europe and TI-EU.

In parallel to their advocacy efforts with decision-makers, civil society groups have also engaged to raise the wider public’s awareness on EU lobby transparency issues, providing information through lobby “guides” and interactive tools.

In this context, Counter Balance launches today its new virtual Lobby Tour platform. Based on the latest Brussels Lobby Planet guide released by Corporate Europe Observatory, the new platform is meant as a virtual guide to take a peak in the Brussels “bubble” but also – through its handy mobile version – as a concrete guiding tool to accompany curious visitors willing to discover more on this aspect of the European Capital.

With 17 stops in and around the EU quarter, the new online tool will take visitors through the lobbying realm, exploring its main mechanisms and techniques, and zooming in on some specific lobby interest groups and public institutions they seek to influence.

Among them, some are less known to the general public, but still very powerful and influential at European level. That is the case of the European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU’s bank, which although mainly based in Luxembourg, also has a Brussels office. Despite having kept for a long time a quite secretive approach about its work, the role of this EU body is far from neglectable: in 2017 alone, the bank financed projects in and outside the EU worth almost 80 billion euros!

A multi-faceted lobby case: the Southern Gas Corridor

And the recent approval by the EIB of almost EUR 2.5 billion loans to two sections (TAP & TANAP) of the Southern Gas Corridor mega-pipeline is a good example of how different lobbying efforts can play a decisive role in orienting EU policies and consequentially determine the use of European money for specific projects.

Indeed, as a dedicated section in the tour illustrates, the gas industry lobby is well present in Brussels and has recently been very active in promoting the construction of new gas pipelines such as the Southern Gas Corridor.

A recent report by Corporate Europe Observatory showed that the gas industry spent over €100 million in 2016 and had more than 1000 lobbyists on its payroll. As a result of such a massive push advertising gas as a ‘clean’ fuel, the EU Commission and national governments have embarked on a multi-billion euro gas infrastructure building programme.

For example, the TAP has received the highest level of political support from the European Commission, in particular from the Energy Union Commissioner Maros Šefčovič. Šefčovič’s friendly approach to the pipeline – states the report — is reflected in his and his cabinet’s 31 meetings with promoters such as BP, SOCAR, Snam, and the TAP Consortium between January 2015 and August 2017, as opposed to a firm refusal to meet civil society groups.

But the lobby spiral doesn’t stop there. As a letter obtained by Counter Balance through a Freedom of Information Request shows, the Commission itself has in turn lobbied the European Investment Bank to push for its support to the Southern Gas Corridor projects. In the letter Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and climate and energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete wrote to the bank’s president Werner Hoyer to underline the importance of the project to the EU. The bank’s recent decision to lend EUR 1.5 billion to TAP and EUR 932 million to TANAP comes now as less of a surprise.

To read more about this and other examples of lobby activities in Brussels take a virtual tour in the EU quarter here.


For further information:

For a complete guide on the world of lobbying in Brussels, download the CEO Lobby Planet here.

To learn more on the civil society campaign for the reform of the EU Transparency Register visit the ALTER-EU webpage.

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