Monday, 7 September 2009

Lobbying through the media

Industry lobbying to water down the proposed EU investment fund directive is intensifying week by week. Earlier this year Corporate Europe Observatory showed how the European Commission’s voluntary register in fact revealed very little about the tremendous levels of lobbying by the financial services industry.

Many major industry players have not even registered. For those who have, the information disclosed is generally very limited. Recent reports in the press suggest that the financial services industry is gearing up for another attack, again raising yet more questions about the need for a tighter definition of what should be included on the Commission's register - and when.

According to PR Week UK, the European Venture Capital Association (EVCA) is on the verge of hiring Brussels-based lobby consultancy FD Blueprint on "a pan-European media and PR brief" to help improve the image of the private equity industry in the run-up to the decisive European Parliament vote on the investment fund directive.

As the contract is for boosting EVCA's "media relations activity in the run-up to crucial EU legislation" it is doubtful whether this contract will ever show up in the Commission's register. This is an area where the Commission should act to close a major loophole.

The Commission asks for disclosure of “all activities carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making processes of the European institutions”, but in practice consultancies tend to exclude media work, even when the goal is clearly to influence EU decision-making.

In the case of the EVCA contract, this is very clear. According to PR Week, "FD Blueprint will work on behalf of the entire European industry focusing on EU-level issues [...] The private equity industry has a number of audiences it has to address - the principal one being the politicians responsible for drafting the legislation in the European parliament."

If the Commission does the right thing and requires media work that is part of EU-focused lobbying campaigns to be disclosed, there's another very important change it should also make. Currently, consultancies are only expected to report once per year. In its current report in the register, Blueprint mentions clients and turnover from 2007. The frequency of reporting should clearly be increased, particularly for consultancies.

Without this change, information about lobby work done this autumn would only become visible in the register in 2011, long after the lobby battle around the investment fund directive is over.

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