New report gives evidence of undue corporate influence in member states’ Brussels offices

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The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) has turned its attention to the “permanent representations”, groups of civil servants who represent the European Union member states’ interests in Brussels and provide the primary link between member states and the EU institutions. In doing so, they of course provide a key avenue for member states to influence policy and legislation at the EU level and have long been suspected of being a target for corporate lobbyists keen to get their message across.

 

ALTER-EU has now produced a report giving solid evidence to back up what we already knew to be the case, but which has been easy enough to deny: corporate capital rules not only within the hallowed marble halls of the European Commission and European Parliament, but in the offices of those whose official purpose is to represent the interests of the peoples of Europe, or most of us.

 

This is how the lobbying watchdog summarises its own report:

 

In 2015, ALTER-EU submitted access to information requests to 17 of the 28 EU member state permanent representations, asking for a list of meetings held with lobbyists in the previous 12 months. Only four governments (Ireland, Romania, the Netherlands, and Poland) were able to provide all or some information that related to our access to information request, despite

the fact that all member states except Cyprus have national legislation governing the right of access to information. The data received from the Netherlands showed that corporate lobbyists regularly hold meetings with the permanent representation. The information received from Ireland, Romania, and Poland also enabled ALTER-EU to determine that many lobby meetings take place with permanent representations in Brussels and a majority are with corporate lobbyists, giving big businesses significant access to promote corporate agendas. Furthermore, the data showed that

lobbyists are able to exploit a loophole in the EU transparency rules which enables them to lobby the permanent representations without being registered in the EU transparency register. Permanent representations are not covered by the EU lobbying transparency regime. Our figures show that 21

per cent of the meetings listed in the data released by the Dutch permanent representation were with lobbies unregistered with the EU transparency register at the time of the meeting; for the Romanian permanent representation, the figure was 20 per cent.

 

The research also illustrates an apparent complacency about lobbying, evidenced by the lack of monitoring and record-keeping by the permanent representatives about who lobbies them. This prevents public access to, and scrutiny of, information about the lobbying around EU decision-making processes. Six countries said they did not hold the information requested (Belgium, Denmark,

Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden). The Netherlands provided an ad hoc list of corporate lobbyists that it had met with, while making it clear that while this list had been informally maintained by an individual officer in the permanent representation, there is no official policy to

record all lobby meetings. Where such lists of lobby meetings do exist, ALTER-EU’s report reveals that other governments are prepared to deny access, as in the cases of the UK and Malta which refused to grant access to the information following an internal appeal.

 

Five countries (Austria, Cyprus, France, Greece, and Italy) did not bother to reply.

 

Read the full (16-page) text of ALTER-EU’s report, Open for Corporate Lobbyists: National Representations in Brussels