German lobbyists in Brussels: Fighting the corner of German business interests

Deutsche Bank building in Brussels
February 3rd, 2016
by Nina Katzemich

Across the EU, more lobbying organisations come from Germany than from any other country. (The exception is Belgium as many lobbyists from elsewhere in the EU register via a Brussels address.) LobbyFacts has taken a look at Germany’s most powerful lobbyists operating in Brussels.

First task: Sorting out meaningless entries

If we look at the list of the German organisations spending most on lobbying the EU, it becomes clear quickly that the data is full of mistakes. The company paij GmbH is a German startup company offering mobile payment services. A website listing of German startup companies reports that Paij GmbH was launched in 2012, and had over 40 employees mid 2013. It is extremely unrealistic that such a startup enterprise would employ 25 lobbyists and spend €3 million on lobbying in Brussels in 2014, much higher figures than those declared by established internet companies like Facebook or Paypal. The entry of the German agency “Social Impact GmbH” which promotes social entrepreneurship, is also implausible. This agency, which lists 50 employees, claims to have spent €3 million on lobbying in Brussels in 2014, on total budget that was only €318,920 higher. These examples show that the efforts by the register secretariat staff to step up quality checks of registrations have not solved the problem of too much ‘dodgy data’ in the EU Transparency Register. It seems that better software and additional human resources are needed to spot and tackle this phenomenon.

Companies lobbying the EU: Deutsche Bank and Volkswagen spending most

After cleaning up the list of the top-spending German lobbyists operating at the EU level, the list of the top twelve German companies lobbying in Brussels looks like a “Who’s who?” of Germany’s biggest companies, with most coming from the sectors that have the most to win (or lose) in Brussels, namely automobiles, chemicals, energy, and the finance and insurance sector.

Deutsche Bank, which is the top-spending German company, joined the register only in 2013, although it was clear that the powerful bank had been lobbying the European institutions heavily, before, during and after the financial crisis. From 2014 to 2015 the bank pretty much doubled the figure it declares as lobbying expenses and it has climbed from position nine to the biggest German spender on EU lobbying. During this period, Deutsche Bank also increased the number of lobbyists it declared from 3 to the equivalent of 8.5 full-time lobbyists. The bank is a very active lobby actor in Brussels, organising receptions, panel discussions and other events. Moreover it is known as an extremely well-networked lobbyist. Just last week it was reported that the financial lobby succeeded in watering down Basel III – in Germany it is likely to be Deutsche Bank who will profit most from this success.

The company with most lobbyists (18 full-time lobbyists), is Volkswagen AG , followed by Eon with 11 full-time lobbyists and Siemens with 14.8. Also with regards to lobbying expenses, the car producers are powerful EU lobbyists, with Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, the biggest German car companies, all in the top twelve list of German companies with biggest lobby expenses. The lobbying expenses of these three companies make up 50 per cent of the lobbying expenses of all car companies lobbying in Brussels, according to a LobbyFacts analysis from September 2015.

A look into integritywatch.eu also shows us the German companies and organisations that had the most meetings with the elite in the European Commission. Bayer AG, the chemicals and pharma giant, had 26 meetings between December 2014 and November 2015; this data is likely compatible with Bayer’s position as fifth on the list of Germany’s biggest corporate lobbyists. Closely following behind are Deutsche Bank and Volkswagen, each with 20 meetings. Overall, looking only at the top twenty list, the car industry had more meetings with the commission than the other industrial sectors represented here, namely 46.

Powerful business associations

Annotation: Where the registrants declared lobby spending in a range, we have taken the middle value of that range.

Looking at the whole list of German lobby organisations spending most on lobbying, the power of German business associations is striking. For example, out of the top 20, 10 are from business lobby groups, while only 6 of them are corporations with plausible entries.

Number one on the list is the Association of medium-sized companies (Bundesverband Mittelständische Wirtschaft) with lobbying expenses of €13 million (in fact this figure could well be a mistake or overexaggeration). Meanwhile, the other business associations on the list, for mechanical engineering (Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau, VDMA), for the chemical industry (Verband der chemischen Industrie, VCI), for the energy and water industry (Bundesverband der Energie- und Wasserwirtschaft, BDEW) and the umbrella association for the German Industry (Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie, BDI) all spent between €3-5 million on lobbying in Brussels in the last year.

Many of these have an impressive number of lobbyists declared, like the VDMA with 22.5 full-time lobbyists, the BDI (28.8 full-time lobbyists, and 10 lobbyists accredited to the European Parliament), or the Association of German Banks (Bundesverband deutscher Banken, 18 full-time lobbyists). Business organisations like these are not always well-known by the public, but are very active players in Brussels, often leading and coordinating huge lobbying campaigns within their industrial sector and spending more on lobbying than the individual big corporations do (although of course they are funded by their members, which are often the same companies).

In comparison with Germany, where the power of business associations is said to be in decline, in Brussels industry associations thrive. The Association of the automobile industry (Verband der Automobilindustrie, VDA) for example, is the extremely powerful association representing the German car industry. It has played an important role in the joint fight of the German automobile industry against ongoing attempts at the EU level to cut CO2 emissions, spending more money on lobbying than the European car industry’s umbrella organisation, ACEA. This is not only a fight against the European Commission, but also a fight against rival car producers from Italy or France, for example. The VDA alone has had 18 meetings with the European Commission.

All data in this article were retrieved from the LobbyFacts database on 28 January 2016. For determining which German companies and organisations had most meetings with European Commission officials, we made use of integritywatch.eu.