What is lobby?
The lobby is „the action of individuals and private groups, each with varying specific interests, trying to influence decisions at the political level.” By this deﬁnition, the Commission emphasizes that the attempt to influence can be made by various means, from discussions and presentations of reports to telephone calls.
The lobbying activity should be clearly defined, with the difference between the conduct of this professional activity and the activities of the civil society organizations. It clearly distinguishes between a legitimate action and an act of corruption: the lobby is a central and legitimate part of the democratic process within the framework of the liberal democratic systems. The term lobby should not be confused with the term corruption. In support of this statement is quoted a report of Transparency International which states: „corruption is operationally defined as the abuse of power for private gain”
How many lobbyists are in Brussels?
Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, but also the capital of Europe. In fact, in an area of a few square kilometers, the Belgian city gathers the headquarters of the main European institutions and dozens of other EU entities. There are almost 25,000 lobbyists, who are working in Brussels; most of whom are representing the interests of corporations and their lobby groups.
How does lobbying work in practice?
Lobbyists are the indispensable bridge linking a sector of the society (industry, trade and many others) with the policy makers. The lobbyist provides technical expertise to the EU regulators in particular domains in which they may not be experts. One of the most common ways of providing such input is by drafting position and priority papers on the relevant dossiers for the represented sector.
Lobby and the European Commission
The European Commission is the main target of European lobbyists in Brussels. This is easy to understand, given the skills of the Commission to initiate and formulate proposals for amending the legislation (articles 250-252 EC), so that the lobby activities found the epicenter where the Community legislation takes the first form. However, so far, the Commission has preferred to address the issue of regulating lobbying through non-binding instruments, such as communications, white books, green books, various other information, or to include certain standards conduct in its internal regulations regarding the status of EU officials, the code of good administrative conduct or the code of conduct of the commissioners. The Commission seemed to have a justification for this. The Commission’s initiative came to fruition on June 23, 2008, when it was inaugurated the first European register of lobbyists exercising influence on the Commission. By launching this voluntary register, the Commission wanted to inform citizens about general interests or specific factors that influence the decision-making process at the level the European public institutions and about the resources mobilized for this purpose.
How does lobbying work in practice?
Lobbyists are the indispensable bridge linking a sector of the society (industry, trade and many others) with the policy makers. The lobbyist provides technical expertise to the EU regulators in particular domains in which they may not be experts. One of the most common ways of providing such input is by drafting position and priority papers on the relevant dossiers for the represented sector. The lobbying activity should be clearly defined, with the difference between the conduct of this professional activity and the activities of the civil society organizations.
Lobbying in Brussels – An overview
We have to make a distinction between lobbying by paid professionals and political activism of engaged citizens. Simply put, money matters. It offers the ability to lobby steadily over time, at all stages of the decision making process. Employing lobbyists that can follow a dossier throughout the legislative process – which can take up to five or even ten years – can be a pricey affair. The most senior ‘barons of the bubble’ have salaries even bigger than those of the European Commissioners.
Public scrutiny of lobbying
There has been some progress towards greater public scrutiny and official oversight of EU lobbying activities since a voluntary lobby register was introduced: the EU Transparency Register. Many lobbyists have signed up, providing information on how much they spend on lobbying activities, how many staff they employ, and on which policy areas they work. At the same time, genuine transparency remains a distant dream. As a voluntary tool that is not subject to thorough, systematic data checks, the register contains many incomplete and unreliable entries, reflecting how little a priority lobby transparency still is in the EU institutions. The EU institutions are due to start negotiating the creation of a new lobby register, but the prospect of a truly mandatory, legally-binding tool remains a long way off. Despite much pressure from civil society, the Commission seems content with tweaks rather than advancing the fundamental reforms needed for real transparency.
In conclusion, there is nothing illegal and it is not a privilege to know the decision-making process and to influence it, including by sustaining a self-interest. The current legislative framework establishes rights in this regard and establishes procedural mechanisms by which these rights are guaranteed. The major problem that society has is related to the fact that these rights are not sufficiently disseminated to the general public, not that everyone, including sometimes at the level of public authorities, be they central or local, knows them and especially respects them.