Yes, they're the unsung heroes of the European lawmaking arena. Whether it's in hidden backrooms, at fancy restaurants or at exclusive parties, they are the faceless individuals working tirelessly -- as some see it -- to make sure that we are misinformed about major world conflicts, that we pay more to stay healthy and that we have more CO2 to enjoy in our atmosphere.
But now, for the fourth year in a row, a group of four NGOs is giving citizens a chance to recognize these individuals and companies by voting online for the 2008 "Worst EU Lobbying Award" and the "Worst Conflict of Interest Award."
"There really are no rules in the EU that put any restraints on lobbying," said Ulrich Müller, a representative of Cologne-based group LobbyControl. His organization has teamed up with three other anti-lobbying NGOs -- Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe and Spinwatch -- to administer the awards and thereby recognize "who deserves to be named and shamed for the most deceptive or misleading lobbying campaign in Brussels."
This year, five finalists have been chosen for the "Worst EU Lobbying Award" from a pool of 54 nominees. The awards are reserved for those who "pretend to be concerned about environmental activities, who pay off scientists, provide concealed financing to anarcho-capitalist think tanks or secure privileged access for themselves to EU institutions." This year's nominees include:
Who's Team Are You Playing For?
This year, the group of NGOs will also be conferring a second award. The "Worst Conflict of Interest Award" is reserved for members of the European Parliament (MEPs), EU commissioners or other EU employees whose contacts or background leads one to doubt that their work for EU institution is performed in an objective manner. This year's nominees include:
The US Congress requires representatives to go through a waiting period before taking the leap into lobbying activity, but no such rule exists in the European Parliament.
Votes for the two awards can be submitted online until Nov. 30 at a Web site set up by the four NGOs, and the winners will be announced on Dec. 9 at a special ceremony in Brussels.
EU Barks but Declines to Bite
In an effort to bring a bit more transparency to the lobbying scene in Brussels, the European Commission introduced a registry of lobbyists in June. The registry, which requires lobbyists to identify both their clients and their remuneration, currently lists only 438 organizations.
"That means that only about one-fifth of the lobbyists are listed," said Müller, whose organization estimates that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 lobbyists in Brussels. Of the 438 listed organizations, 260 are industry associations -- meaning that fewer than 10 for each of the EU's 27 member states have registered themselves.
Christian Humborg, the managing director of Transparency International Germany, finds the list "extremely disappointing" and attributes its deficiencies to the fact that lobbyists only need to list themselves in the registry if they choose to do so.
"It's really a shame that we have to just cross off half a year without having made any real progress when it comes to achieving some degree of transparency in lobbying," Humburg laments. If he had his way, registration would be made mandatory and lobbyists would be presented with incentives to do so -- as well as possible sanctions for failing to do so.
With reporting by Petra Sorge.
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