European Commission Must Act to Curb Excessive Corporate Lobbying Power

Open Letter to José Manuel Barroso,
President of the European Commission

(PDF version)

Amsterdam, October 25 2004

Dear Mr. Barroso,

The undersigned over 50 civil society groups from more than a dozen European Union countries call upon you to act immediately to curb the excessive influence of corporate lobby groups over EU policy-making. Over fifteen thousand full-time lobbyists now operate in Brussels, a large majority representing business interests. Lobby groups succeed all too frequently in postponing, weakening or blocking sorely needed progress in EU social, environmental and consumer protections. The European Commission must take action now to prevent Europe from drifting towards the levels of corporate control exercised over politics in the United States.

We welcome the decision to introduce a "Code of Conduct for Commissioners" (including a full declaration of financial interests) and designate Commissioner Neelie Kroes' pledge to refrain from accepting business positions after her term as Competition Commissioner. These are steps in the right direction, but they are not sufficient. All European Commissioners and other Commission officials should be obliged to accept substantial and well-defined cooling-off periods. Such measures are needed to prevent 'revolving door' cases like that of former Trade Commissioner Brittan, who less than a year after leaving the European Commission became not only consultant on WTO issues at the law firm Herbert Smith, but also Vice-Chairman of the investment bank UBS Warburg and Advisory Director at Unilever. Soon after, he also accepted the Chairmanship of the LOTIS Committee of International Financial Services London (IFSL), a lobby group representing the UK financial industry. Such cases do nothing to enhance the reputation of the European Commission.

Thousands of lobbyists, assisted by an army of public affairs consultants, today play a powerful and increasingly undemocratic role in the EU political process. As a first step in addressing these problems, Europe needs far stricter ethics and transparency requirements. So far, the Commission's response has been deeply inadequate; limited to referring to the extremely narrow and entirely voluntary code of conduct developed by the Society of European Public Affairs Practitioners (SEAP).

One of many examples illustrating the need for improved and enforceable ethics and transparency rules is the case of the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF) which is lobbying against tighter health and environment regulations concerning toxic bromines. Considerable research efforts are needed to discover that the BSEF - a very active player in the EU decision-making process on bromine flame retardants - is nothing but an industry front group run from the Brussels offices of a global PR firm, on behalf of chemical industry clients. Without a radical improvement of the registration and reporting obligations for lobbyists working to influence the European institutions, there can be no effective democratic scrutiny of corporate influence over EU policy-making. Europe should learn from the lobbying disclosure legislation in place in the United States and Canada and oblige firms and organisations targeting the EU institutions (with a lobbying budget over a certain threshold) to submit regular reports giving details on the issues they are lobbying on, for which clients and with what budget. These lobbying disclosure reports should be fully accessible to the public in an online searchable database.

We also call upon the new European Commission to make a clean break with the undemocratic practices developed by your predecessors, for instance the incestuous relationship with the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue (TABD), co-founded in 1995 by Commissioner Leon Brittan. The TABD is a prime example of the inappropriate influence over EU trade and regulatory policies which previous European Commissions have granted large corporations.

We draw to your attention that the Prodi Commission in 2003 took the deeply undemocratic step to accelerate implementation of the TABD's demands by introducing a "Framework for Delivery" and establishing a "Horizontal Liaison Group" of high-level Commission officials at the service of the TABD. Questions on this topic were raised during the European Parliament's hearing with Peter Mandelson on October 4th, but the Commissioner-designate failed to reply. The European Services Forum (ESF) is another example of a corporate grouping awarded far-reaching and inordinate privileges by the European Commission. As EU policies should serve the public interest, not the narrow commercial agendas of large corporations, we urge you to strip these and other business lobby groups of their inappropriate privileges.

We look forward to your response to these proposals, which we believe are of the highest importance for improving the democratic credibility of the European Commission.

Yours sincerely,

Erik Wesselius
Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)

Read our follow-up letter to Mr. Barroso (16 November 2004), containing a short comment on the letter that the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP) sent to Mr. Barroso in reaction to the Open Letter on Curbing Excessive Corporate Lobbying Power.

Corporate lobbying organisations in Brussels oppose binding rules on transparency and ethics for lobbyists in Brussels. Read more.

Signatories (over 260 civil society groups - as of 17 December 2004):

  • Afrika Europa Netwerk, The Netherlands
  • Agir ici, France
  • Agrarbündnis, Austria
  • Alliance for Sustainable Development, Latvia
  • Alliance of People of African descent in Europe
  • ÄrztInnen für eine gesunde Umwelt (ISDE Austria)
  • A SEED Europe
  • Association of Critical Shareholders in Germany
  • Association of Farmers (ATB), Malta
  • Associazione Consumatori Utenti ONLUS, Italy
  • ATTAC Austria
  • ATTAC España, Spain
  • ATTAC Finland
  • ATTAC Flanders, Belgium
  • ATTAC France
  • ATTAC Germany
  • ATTAC Sweden
  • Baby Milk Action, United Kingdom
  • Berne Declaration, Switzerland
  • Both ENDS, The Netherlands
  • Bundeskoordination Internationalismus (BUKO), Germany
  • Bureau Ver(?)antwoord, The Netherlands
  • Caliu, Catalunia
  • Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale, Italy
  • Campagne tegen Wapenhandel, The Netherlands
  • Centro Nuovo Modello di Sviluppo, Italy
  • CLAT, The Netherlands
  • Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, Germany
  • Consumer Interests Platform (BeVaCo), The Netherlands
  • CornerHouse, United Kingdom
  • Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)
  • Crocevia, Italy
  • Defend Council Housing, United Kingdom
  • Diaspora Afrique, France
  • digicarefoundation.org, The Netherlands
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
  • E.KAT.O. - Hellenic Consumer Organisation, Greece
  • ESK, Basque Country
  • Estonian Green Movement
  • EU-AG ATTAC Germany
  • European Environmental Bureau (143 member organizations in 31 countries)
  • European Farmers Coordination (CPE)
  • FERN – the EU forest campaign
  • For Mother Earth, Belgium
  • Friends of the Earth Europe (more than 30 national organisations with thousands of local groups)
  • Greenpeace (European Unit)
  • Hungarian Young Greens
  • IBFAN-GIFA, Switzerland
  • IBFAN Italia
  • Initiativ Liewensufank asbl, member of IBFAN, Luxembourg
  • Informationsgruppe Lateinamerika, Austria
  • Institute for Economic Relocalisation, France
  • Institute of Environmental Economics, Poland
  • Kairos Europa
  • KEPKA-Consumers Protection Centre, Greece
  • Konsument-Forum, Sweden
  • "Less beneficence, more rights", Italian coalition of NGOs
  • Monitoring Network Health and Environment, The Netherlands
  • Movement for Direct Democracy, Czech Republic
  • National Plaform EU Research and Information Centre, Ireland
  • Nonviolent Peaceforce
  • NordBruk, Sweden
  • Observatori del Deute en la Globalització, Catalonia
  • Open Asia Denmark
  • Österreichische Bergbauern- und Bergbäuerinnenvereinigung, Austria
  • Oxfam Solidarity, Belgium
  • Pesticide Action Network, United Kingdom
  • Privacy International, United Kingdom
  • Protect the Future, Hungary
  • Quaker Council for European Affairs
  • Quercus - National Association for Nature Conservation, Portugal
  • Referendum Platform, the Netherlands
  • Rete di Lilliput, Italy
  • Roba dell'Altro Mondo Fair Trade, Italy
  • SANE (Swansea Airport No Expansion), Wales, United Kingdom
  • Shareholders club Sisyfos, Sweden
  • Småbrukare i Sjuhärad, Sweden
  • Spinwatch
  • Swedish Consumer Coalition (Sveriges Konsumenter i Samverkan)
  • TIE-Netherlands
  • Transnational Institute (TNI)
  • Women in Development Europe (WIDE)
  • World Development Movement, United Kingdom
  • Umanotera, Foundation for Sustainable Development, Slovenia
  • URFIG, France
  • War on Want, United Kingdom
  • Werkgroep Globalisering Delft-Den Haag, The Netherlands
  • Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF), The Netherlands
  • Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Sweden
  • Women's International League for Peace and Freedom UK Section
  • World Economy, Ecology & Development (WEED), Germany
  • XminusY Solidarity Fund, Netherlands

Signatories from outside of Europe:

  • Consumer Action, United States
  • Humanitarian Group For Social Development (HGSD), Lebanon
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, United States