Belén Balanyá and Olivier Hoedeman, two of the founders of Corporate Europe Observatory, sitting in a couch and talking to a third person, not in the camera and the words:25years of CEO How did Corporate Europe Observatory begin? Logo of EU Watchdog Radio

CEO: How it started... how it's going...

29 July 2022

Dear friends,

In the 1990s a bunch of young activist-researchers decided to protest at the offices of corporate lobby group the European Round Table of Industrialists... and what they found shocked them. They uncovered a batch of files showing just how much Europe's captains of industry were shaping the EU's core policy directions

The ERT and other corporate lobbyists' agenda to unleash destructive market forces that put 'competitiveness' above all other considerations in Europe – whether social rights, environmental protections, welfare provisions, or cutting carbon emissions – very much shaped the path we all find ourselves on today.

These activist-researchers went on to found CEO in 1997, out of concern that there was so little discussion at EU level of corporate agenda-setting. A small group working for the first two years out of cafes and borrowed offices, we wanted to show the European public who was making decisions for our futures, and how far from democratic those processes could be.

At that time corporate lobbying was simply not discussed in the EU as a structural problem. CEO helped push early debates about corporate lobbies' agenda-setting power; as a result the whole issue was brought into the sphere of acceptable conversation, as were discussions about what to do about it (for example, a lobby register). From there, we have continued our investigative and campaign work to expose and reign in the power of corporate lobbying.

In this, our 25th year, we're proud of how much we've achieved and how far we've come, but the issues we were founded to address are very much still present. That’s part of our motivation to intensify the work we do, and build momentum for protecting democratic decision-making from corporate capture.

You can find out more of the story by listening to CEO's podcast EU Watchdog radio, where we dive into how it all started 25 years ago. And in doing so two of the co-founders of CEO, Olivier Hoedeman and Belén Balanya, also take you through some pretty enlightening aspects of the political and economic history of the European Union.

Now, back to the present day! We are continuing to keep track of how corporate lobbyists are exploiting the Ukraine war and the rising cost of food to argue for deregulation, most recently in Vicky Cann's latest op-ed. These lobbyists have targeted files on everything from greener farming, to climate targets, to nature restoration, to corporate due diligence.

Vicky points out that ignored in all this is the role that financial speculation in agricultural commodities is playing in pushing up food prices – yet corporate capture has actually led to a weakening of commodity speculation rules, ushered in during the COVID-19 pandemic apparently under the public's radar. Lobbyists never waste a good crisis, it seems!

Given that corporations and financial speculators are helping push food prices out of reach for so many, it's particularly cynical that their lobbyists argue that regulations should be further slashed because of the cost of living crisis.

Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about one of the inside forces helping push deregulation within EU institutions, you could go bananas and check out our new animated video. (Which explains – with the help of some bananas – how the EU's Regulatory Scrutiny Board helps corporations to derail social and environmental legislation....)

You can also check out some of our other recent media coverage. CEO's research into Uber featured in the recent international media investigation the 'Uber files'. You can read our op-ed in The Guardian on how Uber’s privileged access to politicians shows the lobby system urgently needs to change. We've also been tenacious in pushing for transparency from the EU over its procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, and critical of big pharma's monopolies during the pandemic. You can watch CEO's Hans van Scharen talking about the issue on German TV channel ARD; in fact it's well worth watching the whole investigation.

Now you know a little bit more about how CEO's origins. Please consider sharing our work, checking out our social media (see below), and if you are able to, donating. We thank you for your ongoing support, we really couldn't do it without you. 

Wishing you a wonderful summer, from all of us!

In solidarity,

Hans, Jan, Joana, Kat, and Lucy, CEO communications team.