Ignoble Honors 'Worst-Of' Awards to Smoke Out EU Lobbyists

Brussels is packed with behind-the-scenes lobbyists working hard -- and not always cleanly or fairly -- to promote their employer's interests. A group of NGOs is currently trying to bring a bit of transparency to this murky world with some not so honorific honors.

When it comes to lawmaking in Europe, an estimated three-fourths of all new laws and regulations originate in Brussels, the European Union's capital city. And where the decisions that affect businesses are made, even if you can't see it, you're always also sure to find one more group -- lobbyists.

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:

  • The Brussels-based PR and lobbying firms GPlus and Aspect Consulting for their roll in "supporting the spread of war propaganda in the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia." The two companies helped manage the "propaganda war" for the different sides in the conflict, making a killing by keeping the media misinformed and disseminating false information about things such as the number of killed and whether Russian forces were even operating in South Ossetia.

  • The agrofuel lobby representing the producers MPOC, Unica and Abengoa for their "misleading campaigns to promote agrofuels as green," while denying that producing agrofuels from palm oil and sugarcane has any effect on the security of the food supply and the environment.

  • The European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines (EAASM) for "hiding the involvement of big pharma corporations in their campaigns." The organization -- which is funded by pharmaceutical heavy-hitters, including Bayer-Schering, Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Wyeth -- failed to disclose its benefactors when publishing a study that tried to dissuade people from using online discount drug providers.

  • The International Air Transport Association (IATA) for its "deceptive lobbying campaign to avoid CO2 reduction obligations in the aviation sector." According to the award jury, the organization -- which lobbies on behalf of aviation giants Lufthansa, British Airways and Air France -- successfully persuaded EU representatives to set aviation emission limits using the figures that the lobby had publicized for the industry's contribution to total global emissions. While the industry persuaded the European Parliament that it was 2 percent, other organizations put the figure at up to 12 percent.

  • The European Business and Parliament Scheme (EBPS) for "abusing their location and lobbying from inside Parliament offices." Among other things, the business association is accused of organizing a gala night for corporate representatives and members of the European Parliament in official buildings.

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:

  • Caroline Jackson, a conservative British MEP, for "her twin roles as an elected representative dealing with environmental issues and as an appointed environmental advisor to private waste management company Shanks."

  • Piia-Noora Kauppi, a Finnish representative, for "abusing her role as an MEP by promoting the interests of her future employer, a big banking lobby group."

  • Klaus-Heiner Lehne, a German MEP, for "his dual role as an MEP and lawyer for EU competition and regulatory issues, and for using his position as an MEP to allow lawyers to lobby in the dark."

  • Fritz-Harald Wenig, director of the European Commission's Trade Defense Instrument Directorate, for "revealing inside information on trade tariffs to 'lobbyists' who were in fact journalists working under cover."

  • Michel Petite, Robert Klotz and Lars Kjolbye for "going through the revolving door to law firms lobbying for industry clients" right after having worked as lawyers in the EU's competition department.

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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