How vulnerable are the EU institutions to undue corporate influence, and what gaps exist in EU lobbying and ethics rules?
In the run-up to the European elections in late May, many members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will be considering their future careers. If experiences from the end of the previous parliamentary term in 2009 are any indication, many will be approached by lobby firms and industry groups hoping to entice them through the revolving door: the route from the European Parliament to Brussels' for-profit lobby circles is a well-trodden path.
The issue of 'competitiveness' will be dominating the discussions at the European Council Summit that takes place on 20-21 March. An important theme for big business as measures in this field are, while attacking citizen's rights, generally in line with industry's interests. Therefore, in the past months, major industry lobby groups ERT and BusinessEurope have been bent on exerting their influence on the agenda and discussions of first the Competitiveness Council meeting and then the EU Summit – and seem to have succeeded.
A discreet but important lobbying battle is currently being fought in Brussels over the labelling of nano ingredients in food products. A European Commission text would completely betray a 2011 regulation by only labelling new additives. The Parliament is attempting to block their text which waters down the label requirements, while the food additives industry is lobbying to stop the Parliament; the vote is 12 March.
The story of the Pioneer GM maize crop has culminated in the biggest controversy on genetic modification (GM) issues in years. On Tuesday 11 February a record number of 19 EU countries declared themselves to be opposed to Pioneer's GM maize being authorised for cultivation in the EU. This included the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland, all of whom were expected to either vote in favour or abstain just before the vote. Only five countries said they were in favour (among them the UK, Spain and Sweden) and the rest abstained.
At the moment, too many European citizens feel alienated from the decisions made in Brussels. And that is not surprising. Big corporations, lobby consultancies and law firms spend hundreds of millions of euros every year to ensure that EU policy-making meets the needs of big business and not the public interest – and it works.
While Commissioner De Gucht claims that “there is nothing secret” about the ongoing EU-US trade talks, notes of Commission meetings with business lobbyists released to CEO under the EU’s freedom of information law were heavily censored.
A new tool for smartphones offers you a quick virtual lobby tour around the EU bubble in Brussels. CounterBalance and Corporate Europe Observatory have created this virtual trip to the EU quarter, a real lobbying paradise and home of a 30.000 man strong lobby army.
Transparency campaigners cannot find a single area of “good progress” made by the review group to improve the EU’s lobby register, according to a scorecard published today by ALTER-EU. The scorecard assesses the outcome of the recent EU Transparency Register review process against ALTER-EU's own recommendations for reform. The assessment has been made after receiving leaked copies of the final outcome of the review process.
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) has today urged President Barroso to put in place new rules to prevent the current crop of European commissioners from going through the revolving door in 2014. As the Barroso II Commission nears the end of its term in office, transparency campaigners believe that the cooling-off period which applies to former commissioners taking on lobby jobs should be extended from 18 months to three years to prevent a repeat of the conflict of interest scandals which dogged the end of the Barroso I Commission.
In 2010 when the Barroso I Commission left office, there was a public outcry when six out of the 13 departing commissioners went almost immediately into the corporate sector or lobby jobs, provoking the risk of possible conflicts of interest. Now in 2014, CEO has looked again at these six former commissioners to see what lessons can be learnt as the Barroso II Commission prepares to leave office later this year.
Commissioner Barnier has surprisingly announced a temporary ban on meetings with the financial lobby. An important and telling step, but more is needed if the objective is to curb the lobbying power of the banks.
Faced with the threat of a highly critical verdict from the European Ombudsman just before Christmas, the Commission quietly smuggled out an announcement that a controversial appointee to its ethics committee had been replaced, presumably hoping to take the sting out of what could have been a very uncomfortable media tale for the Commission. Afterall, it is not every day that the Commission's position is called “inconceivable and naïve” by another EU institution.
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