Wednesday, 10 June 2009

BUSINESSEUROPE – a small fish in the lobbying pond?

--- by guest blogger Christine Pohl, Friends of the Earth Europe

Anyone following political debates in the Brussels bubble will agree that BUSINESSEUROPE must be one of the biggest industry lobby groups. Representing employers federations from 34 countries, it has 45 permanent staff at its smart Brussels headquarters. Their role is “to secure that the views of European employers regarding the impact of proposed EU legislation on enterprise are considered as legislation is decided” - in other words: to lobby. But according to its entry in the Commission's lobby transparency register, BUSINESSEUROPE is just a small fish in the Brussels pool. The group reports an amazingly low lobbying budget, claiming their costs “directly related to representing interests to EU institutions” in 2008 were just 550,000EUR - 600,000EUR.

Compare this to the lobby budgets of some other business lobby groups in the register. The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce for example estimates its lobby budget at 1,500,000EUR – almost three times more than BUSINESSEUROPE. The Italian Food Industry Federation reports its lobby expenditure to be >= 1,000,000EUR. This is very vague, but still indicates that it is at least twice as big as BUSINESSEUROPE. Others including the Italian Association of Financial Intermediaries and the Federation of European Accountants appear to outspend BUSINESSEUROPE. In fact, BUSINESSEUROPE is not even in the top-30 of the biggest industry lobby groups in the register. This seems so unlikely that there is good reason to think that BUSINESSEUROPE has calculated its lobbying expenditure in a far too limited way.

For a start, BUSINESSEUROPE should have included the salary and office costs for the 45 members of staff involved in its Brussels lobbying work. It should also have included the cost of lobby events such as the European Business Summit (EBS) and the glossy lobbying publications displayed on its website.

We were curious to find out how BUSINESSEUROPE explained their lobbying budget. So we wrote them a letter and asked. We didn't get a reply. We then decided to use the complaint mechanism for the Commission's register, hoping that this would shed some light on BUSINESSEUROPE's low budget lobby work. It took the Secretariat-General of the Commission a while to reply - and when it finally did, it was to inform us that “Having carried out the necessary verifications internally as well as in contact with BUSINESSEUROPE, we have no ground to establish a violation of the Commission's Code of Conduct.”

This reply did not really satisfy our curiosity, and we were slightly surprised to get so little explanation. Any serious complaint mechanism provides the reasoning and argumentation for a decision, from the European Ombudsman to the OECD. Even the complaint panel for the lobby association EPACA gives some kind of explanation for its decision. So we wrote to the Secretariat-General again – but to no avail. We did get a reply – but it merely explained that “the Commission's services had met representatives of Business Europe and asked them to clarify the issue at stake regarding the elements and the methodology used to assess the estimated amount spent on direct lobbying of the EU institutions."

Are we expected to believe BUSINESSEUROPE's registration any more now than we did before complaining? We can only conclude that the Commission does not take complaints about registrations seriously. How seriously are they taking their role of oversight body for the register then?

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