It’s time for another blog on the European Union. Today, I provide an overview into the lobbying business in the EU.
As the European Union continues to grow and evolve, the role of lobbying is also expanding dramatically. In the past decade, EU jurisdiction has broadened to include areas of consumer, social, and environmental policy, and the advent of the euro has raised numerous economic and monetary issues within the euro zone. Studies estimate that approximately 80 percent of national laws in the European Union originate at EU level.
The resulting increased need for information on complex issues now offers interest groups more opportunities than ever to influence EU legislation. Unlike the United States, which has strict regulations governing the activities of lobbyists and their interactions with lawmakers, the EU has to date taken a less formal approach. Each of the key institutions – the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the European Parliament – has developed its own system for working with interest groups.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, charged with proposing legislation and overseeing its implementation, offers the greatest access to lobby groups via its Directorates General (DGs). DGs are distinct departments, comprised of Commission staff responsible for specific tasks or policy areas. DGs frequently consult with experts and interest groups when researching specific issues falling within EU jurisdiction. In June 2008, the European Commission launched a voluntary register of lobbyists who seek to influence EU decision-making.
The Council of the European Union, which comprises the ministers of each Member State and is the main decision-making body of the EU, is the least accessible of the main EU institutions in terms of lobbying. The Council maintains no register of lobbyists and refers contact with interest groups to the European Commission. However, national ministers frequently maintain relationships with relevant local and regional lobby groups under the aegis of the national lobbying regulations of their Member State.
The European Parliament, a directly elected body that co-legislates with the Council, is a key target for interest groups. The European Parliament maintains a register of approximately 5,000 accredited lobbyists who subscribe to a specific Code of Conduct and receive special passes to access Members of the European Parliament. Recently, the European Parliament proposed the development of a single register for lobbyists, which would be common to the Parliament, the Commission, and the Council of the European Union.
Current estimates indicate that there are approximately 15,000 lobbyists and 2,500 lobbying organizations in Brussels. Lobbyists in the EU generally fall into one of three major groups: industry associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) / interest groups, and regional representations. Much like their American counterparts, industry associations and interest groups concentrate on influencing decision-making processes for the benefit of their members, while also gathering and disseminating useful information. In contrast, regional lobby groups represent regional and local authorities within EU Member States, and focus not only on direct lobbying, but also on networking, informing and marketing their regions throughout the EU apparatus.
Lobbying in the EU is not without its challenges. Interest groups must address the shifting balance of power among EU institutions, such as those changes outlined in the Treaty of Lisbon. Additionally, the growth of the lobbying industry has led to more regulation, both by lobbying groups themselves and by EU institutions. The European Transparency Initiative and the new European Commission lobbying register and accompanying code of conduct are just two examples of EU efforts to better monitor the emerging lobbying industry and the deepening relationships between lobbyists and lawmakers.
How does lobbying in the European Union differ from lobbying in the United States? Stay tuned for a comparison of both systems in my next blog!