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Lobbies at the heart of EU decision-making

In a widely shared Twitter thread under the #LiaisonsDangereuses hashtag, Manon Aubry (France Insoumise, France) has published a comprehensive list – now counting 45 problematic ethical issues and scandals facing EU institutions and officials today.

All examples were tallied during Aubry’s first year in the European Parliament and demonstrate the prevalence of opacity, revolving doors and conflicts of interest in the heart of Europe. Despite being treated as normal, these cases reveal a serious democratic deficit in the EU, at the expense of the public interest.

Aubry has called for the establishment of an independent authority to enforce adherence to more robust rules.

The full list is here, below are some highlights :

August 2019: Eurogas requests to meet MEPs in exchange for donations of 50 euros to UNICEF. The lobby group received only mild reprimand after meeting more than 200 MEPs.

September 2019: former German Commissioner Günther Oettinger registers the statutes of his new lobby organisation several months before the end of his mandate.

September 2019: Director of the European Banking Supervisory Agency leaves his post to become the head of the main European banking lobby (AFME).

September 2019: Former Banco Santander lobbyist allowed to keep shares in the bank while heading the European Banking Authority.

October 2019: revealed, fossil fuel giants met with the European Commission on average once a week during the last mandate. The top five fossil fuel companies spent 250 million euros in EU lobbying in a decade.

October 2019: European Ombudsman denounces lack of transparency in the Council due to its refusal to publish documents related to the setting of fishing quotas, preventing verification of compliance with the rules against overfishing.

December 2019: Commission refuses to publish member states’ positions on the risks of pesticides for bees.The European Ombudsman denounces the Commission‘s repeated concealment of information in the public interest.

November 2019: lobby watch organisation, Influence Map, obtains the verbatim notes of an undeclared meeting where oil giant ExxonMobil pushed the Commission to revise downwards policy targets in the EU Green Deal.

November 2019: Thierry Breton, CEO of French corporation Atos, appointed Internal Market Commissioner without a due process that guarantees that he is free from conflicts of interest.

December 2019: the European Parliament takes note of the potential conflicts of interest for several Commissioner-nominees yet gives them the green light without demand for guarantees.

December 2019: the European Parliament rapporteur for the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement fails to declare ties to Vietnamese government through leadership in an interest group.

December 2019: among the many Christmas gifts received from lobbyists openly seeking to influence European politics, a bottle of champagne from Vladimir Putin!

January 2020: the Commission authorised an ambassador to become a lobbyist for companies, by departing from revolving doors rules. The ex-ambassador turned out to be a spy.

January 2020: press reports reveal that three Commissioners (including the President) have not respected their obligation to publish their meetings with lobbyists.

January 2020: Croatia accepts private sponsorships for its Council presidency mandate, notably from the oil tanker INA and an agro-industry.

January 2020: on the eve of the European Parliament ratification vote of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, MEPs serving in the International Trade Committee receive bottles of champagne from the Vietnamese embassy.

January 2020: Former director for the main European banking lobby, Gerry Cross, becomes candidate for the post of European Banking Authority director (narrowly rejected).

February 2020: Former Commissioner Oettinger appointed to the National Science Policy Council of Hungarian PM Viktor Orban without declaring it to the Commission and without scrutiny of potential conflicts of interest.

February 2020: Ashley Fox, president of the ECR group in the European Parliament from 2014 and 2019 establishes a new lobby group in 2018 but only in 2020 are his lobby activities with the EU added to the transparency register.

February 2020: only six embassies of EU member states out of 27 publish a record of meetings with lobby groups. France does not publish its lobby meetings and is notoriously opposed to more transparency for the European Council according to a leaked document in 2018.

February 2020: Documents obtained by an NGO reveal an excessive, opaque and effective lobbying to make the Commission more pliable on imports of pesticides and GMOs.

February 2020: revealed, EURACOAL lobbyists sit on the advisory committee of the European “Coal and Steel Research Fund”. The fund pays the salaries of EURACOAL lobbyists.

April 2020:  A document reveals that the upcoming German presidency of the Council has signed corporate sponsorship agreements as per its predecessors, contrary to past announcements.

April 2020: Croatian government signs sponsorship agreements with car companies Citroën and Peugeot while negotiating the European Green Deal, the climate pact for the EU.

April 2020: member states reject the adoption of binding rules limiting the influence of private sponsors on the Council.

April 2020: a journalist reveals that a cabinet member in Transparency Commissioner Vera Jurova’s team met with TikTok before compulsory registration with the transparency register.

April 2020: without waiting for the agreement of the Commission, which is compulsory according to the rules against revolving doors, former Commissioner Oettinger joins the London Speaker Bureau.

April 2020: the world’s top fossil fuel industry investor Blackrock will be paid € 280,000 to advise the Commission on the “greening” of the financial sector.

April 2020:  MEP until 2019, Daniel Dalton becomes head of business lobby group “British Chamber” less than a year after leaving his public post

April 2020: the Croatian Presidency of the Council, which has committed to publishing its meetings with lobby representatives every two weeks, is two months behind updating its own register.

April 2020: reports reveal that Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen signed a private contract with a marketing company to advise on her public twitter profile, without a public tender or adhering to transparency standards.

April 2020: Commission meets with TikTok without declaring the meeting. When questioned, TikTok said the meeting was cancelled while the Commission said it was ‘just’ a phone call, alleging that videoconfences have no requirement for publication.

May 2020: declarations of interests published by the governors of the European Central Bank include shares in Bayer, Sanofi and BlackRock, but do not give rise to any questions.

May 2020: in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Commissioners stop publishing their meetings with lobby representatives while major decisions are being taken.

May 2020: violating the ban on lobbying within a year from working in the Commission, Finnish official Aura Salla becomes a lobbyist for Facebook.

May 2020: the European Ombudsman rules that the Banking Authority should have prevented its former director from joining a lobby organisation and should have immediately restricted his access to confidential data.

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