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George Lyon

Former employer: 
European Parliament
Former function: 
Member of European Parliament (for 5 years)
New function: 
Agri-business senior consultant
New employer: 
Hume Brophy
Nationality: 
UK
Policy area: 
Date of Revolving Door: 
January, 2015
Institutional reaction: 

None. There is no regulation requiring former MEPs to seek authorisation for their subsequent activities.

Other info: 

George Lyon served as an MEP from 2009 until 2014 when he failed to secure re-election. Before that, Lyon had served as a member of the Scottish Parliament and as President of the National Farmers Union Scotland. As an MEP, Lyon became a member of the agriculture and rural development committee (AGRI) in 2009, overseeing the reform process of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). He was AGRI's rapporteur on the issue, producing 'On the future of the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013 (2009/2236(INI))' which set out the committee's opinion on CAP's strategy for the following six years. In 2012 he became vice-chair of the budget committee (BUDG) assuming a strategic position within budget debates.

Throughout his mandate, the Liberal Democrat was an outspoken defender of softening EU regulations against genetically modified (GM) technology. As the AGRI rapporteur he was responsible for the committee's response to the Commission's report assessing the possibility of allowing member states to ban or restrict GM crops on a case by case basis. The original proposal gave member states the right to ban GM crops on criteria other than scientific and health assessments. Lyon publicly opposed this, defending that it would allow “political dogma”, including public opinion, to interfere. Ultimately, Lyon supported the Commission's report but only by limiting member states' right to ban or restrict GM when specific conditions have been met, such as negative socio-economic impacts or the possibility of contamination. According to Eurocoop, Lyon's amendments also included weaker wording on labelling thresholds for the presence of GMOs in GMO-free seeds which was met with intense opposition by civil society groups, including Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). See more here.

Lyon's activity in the AGRI committee also meant that he often dealt with trade issues. He was particularly active on the issue of food and animal feed in relation to trade between the EU and US. In 2011, CEO reported that Lyon's positions were aligned with the biotechnology and GM lobby when Lyon, and other MEPs, supported the introduction of a clause in a parliamentary report accepting low levels of non-approved GMOs in imported animal feed. At the time, CEO claimed that the introduction of this clause had effectively derailed Green MEP Martin Häusling's report which called for a complete re-think on animal feed imports.

Lyon has now been recruited by international communications consultancy company Hume Brophy and appointed as senior consultant to its international agri-business group. According to the company's press release, this group

“provides corporate communications and government relations support throughout the Hume Brophy network to the agri-food sector.”

Lyon is set to join Hume Brophy's “parliamentary team” which also includes former MEPs Gary Titley and Brian Simpson. Commenting on this new team, John Hume, founding partner of Hume Brophy, said that:

“The fragmentation of power and the erosion of traditional big centre right and centre left blocks makes engagement with parliament more challenging than at any time in its history. Our team of full time consultants have strong institutional links and experience across Brussels and member states. They are also able to draw on our teams in London, Dublin, Paris and Singapore, but nothing can substitute actual parliamentary experience to guide our partners though the often difficult challenges of seeking support from the European Parliament.”

“Our Parliamentary team is the largest and strongest in Brussels. Each of our former MEPs have held high office and understand intimately how the institution [EP] works. We have made a conscious decision to invest in parliament relations in this mandate because we believe it will play a much bigger role than ever before.”

Hume Brophy's entry in the Transparency Register describes it as “a consultancy specialising in government relations, corporate and financial communications, government marketing and funding strategies.” In 2013, the last year for which data is available, Hume Brophy reported an annual lobby turnover of €2.5 million. The firm's client list is extensive but Monsanto which provided lobby turnover for Hume Brophy of €150,000-€200,000 in the year to August 2013, easily stands out due to its interest in GM technology.

Monsanto has repeatedly been criticised by civil society groups for its intense lobbying for GM technology. CEO has reported that the bio-tech giant has taken part in public campaigns to fight food labelling regulation and has aggressively addressed unfavourable research. In 2009, Monsanto was awarded the Angry Mermaid Award, given by environmental activists to lobby groups working on climate change. At the time, the bio-tech giant was nominated for its lobbying efforts to label GM soy as “climate-friendly” and to be used as carbon offset even though the farming of GM soy in Latin America was contributing to major deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

John Hume has welcomed his new lobbyist via a press release, saying:

“I am delighted that George Lyon is joining us as a Senior Consultant. His wealth of experience in the agri-food sphere means that he is uniquely placed to deliver top class insight and strategic advice to clients operating in this sector. His appointment will further strengthen our expertise in this area and is a reflection of our ambition to expand our growing agri-food practice.”

Interestingly, the press release also mentioned Lyon's trade policy experience highlighting that he had had “a particular focus on EU relations with the US and the emerging negotiations on TTIP.”

Commenting on this new position, Lyon declared:

“I am very much looking forward to joining the team at Hume Brophy. The firm is clearly a leader in devising and implementing public affairs and communication strategies specific to the agri-food sector. Hume Brophy already has an impressive offer in terms of experience and expertise which has led to exciting growth for the firm in this area. I hope to help Hume Brophy to continue to build upon this success.”

Lyon's appointment has already raised concerns from civil society. In January, two weeks after joining Hume Brophy, Lyon published an opinion piece in a Scottish newspaper staunchly defending GM technology. According to the Herald Scotland (the piece is not available online) Lyon wrote that:

"The EU has been left looking rather stupid as it tries to justify to our trading partners why GMs are blocked despite the fact their own independent food standards agency keeps giving them the all-clear.”

"Meanwhile, around the world millions of hectares of GM crops are grown and millions of people consume them every day and despite the best efforts of the green NGOs to find problems none have been identified."

However, in this article Lyon did not reveal his new lobbying role nor its link to the GM industry. This has led the newspaper Scottish Farmer to dub him 'GM George'.

Thus far (19 February 2015), Lyon is not an accredited lobbyist with the European Parliament. CEO contacted Lyon prior to publishing this article but he did not reply to our questions.

Lyon's move into private consultancy follows that of fellow UK Liberal Democrats Sharon Bowles, Fiona Hall and Graham Watson.

The rules in the European Parliament

The code of conduct for MEPs (approved in 2011) states that “Former Members of the European Parliament who engage in professional lobbying or representational activities directly linked to the European Union decision-making process may not, throughout the period in which they engage in those activities, benefit from the facilities granted to former Members under the rules laid down by the Bureau to that effect”. However, there is no process to monitor or enforce this part of the code and ensure that former MEPs do not use their lifelong access pass for lobbying purposes.

When MEPs leave the European parliament they are entitled to a transitional allowance equivalent to one month's salary for every year they have been an MEP, with a minimum pay-out of six months' salary and a maximum of 24 months.

Comment from CEO: 

“Lyon's new appointment as a lobbyist raises concerns that he might take his considerable insider know-how with him to his new career and use it to support the pro-GM corporate lobby. In CEO's view, the MEP code of conduct should be urgently reformed in order to prevent such shocking revolving door cases and to reduce the potential of conflicts of interest. Until this time, lobby consultancies will continue to pro-actively take advantage of the revolving door.”

 

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