Transparency alone hasn't ended influence of big capital

27 February 2019

Transparency alone hasn't ended influence of big capital

In recent years we've made lot of progress in making the influence of corporate lobbying on European decision-making more transparent. European Commissioners publish lists of their meetings, lobbyists are obliged to register and alongside their name and other details give an account of their activities, while MEPs having a specific function, such as committee chairs and rapporteurs, must note all meetings with lobbyists. Lobbyists who fail to register are no longer welcome. Yet despite all of this transparency, the influence of big capital has not been eliminated. This corporate capture, as it has been dubbed, has been mapped by the lobbying watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory, and their reports demonstrate that the EU is still being led by the nose by big capital.

Take recent international trade treaties. The CEO analysis shows that nine out of ten meetings with lobbyists were with those in the pay of the multinationals, while only one was with representatives of those, such as environmental groups, representing the public interest. No wonder then that the Commission still sees as holy writ treaties on trade and investment which principally serve the interests of multinationals.

The same image emerges from CEO research into the multinationals' influence on the notorious notification directive. I have often written about the directive in this weeklog. What it means is that local governments wishing to restrict the movement of services would first have to present their proposals to the European Commission. For three to six months after this presentation the authority involved would be unable to take any action until they received the green light from Brussels. We're not talking about small matters, either, as the regulation of Air BnB or the exclusion of already over-represented chain stores demonstrates. And of course the only people whose interests are served by this are big players such as IKEA who have no interest in local democracy. Here too the Commission wavered, but fortunately resistance grew by the day and the negotiations have for the time being been stopped in their tracks.

It's not only EU institutions which are caught in the multinational lobbyists' net. National governments and their representatives in Brussels also welcome the lobbyists with open arms, as yet another CEO report has shown.

Last week I held a meeting with representatives of both CEO and Transparency International. It ddn't take us long to agree that while we had over the last decade made a great deal of progress in regard to transparency, the task is far from completed. What we have to do now is ensure that the EU institutions are freed from this corporate capture. If necessary, more regulations will have to be introduced that in the future open the door further for representatives of the public interest, and close it more firmly to lobbyists from major corporations.

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