Over sixty per cent of EU lobbyists represent corporate interests

October 20th, 2015
by Erik Wesselius

One of the burning debates about EU lobbying is the imbalance between lobbyists representing businesses and those representing other, public interests. One would expect the EU’s lobby transparency register to provide clarity on this point, but this is not the case. After the transition to new disclosure requirements earlier this year, many organisations declare unrealistically high numbers of lobbyists. For that reason, the figures for total number of lobbyists declared cannot be used to assess the balance between different interests in the EU lobby register.

Note: The data mentioned in this article reflect the situation on 15 October 2015. When you read this, some of the mentioned organisations may have corrected their register entry, in reaction to the publication of this blog. The rankings may also have changed, reflecting changes in registrations in the EU transparency register since 15 October 2015.

Fortunately, the EU lobby register does hold some pieces of information that can give us an indication of the imbalance between different interests: the number of registered lobby entities per category and the number of parliamentary lobbyist passes held by different categories of lobbyists.

Category EP Accreditations Lobbyists (persons) Lobbyists (FTEs) Registered Organisations
Trade and business organisations 1579 10599 6048 2100
Non-governmental organisations, platforms and networks and similar 1434 55012 43294.25 2170
Companies & groups 1200 24637 19008 1428
Professional consultancies 813 3921 2902.5 593
Think tanks and research institutions 198 588 8815.5 425
Trade unions and professional associations 173 4805 3292.5 495
Other in house lobbyists 132 1513 790.75 260
Self-employed consultants 70 483 321.75 291
Other sub-national public authorities 59 1810 1363.25 104
Law firms 58 337 161.25 102
Organisations representing churches and religious communities 55 281 133.75 37
Other public or mixed entities, created by law whose purpose is to act in the public interest 53 1668 1045.5 139
Transnational associations and networks of public regional or other sub-national authorities 37 706 360.25 38
Regional structures 35 1495 1159.75 111
Academic institutions 32 15647 13067 148
Total corporate 3852     4774
Total 5928     8441

The above snapshot of the statistics on numbers of lobbyists as they were declared per category on 15 October 2015 shows a total of 8,441 registered organisations, of which 4,774 are different types of commercial lobbyists (marked yellow). This is 56.6 per cent of the total number of registrants. The share of NGOs among the total registrants is 25.7 per cent (2,170). These categories are not clear cut, as there are numerous business organisations registered as NGOs and there might be some consultancies lobbying for NGOs, but it gives an indication of the imbalance.

The division of parliamentary lobbyist passes is similar: 65.0 per cent (3,852 out of 5,928) are held by commercial lobbyists, 24.2 per cent (1,434 out of 5,928) by NGOs. Of course, not all lobbyists register for an accreditation badge for the European Parliament and so these numbers, again, are merely an indication. But taken together, these two data sets suggest that over 60 per cent of EU lobbyists (organisations and individual lobbyists alike) represent corporate interests. They substantially out-number those representing other interests: NGOs, trade unions, academics, think tanks and all the other lobby actors in the Brussels bubble.

However, the data contains serious problems too. Looking at the ranking of organisations according to the total number of lobbyists declared, one can get the impression that nobody employs as many lobbyists as NGOs do. A deeper analysis shows that this is probably not the case, but that many NGOs give puzzling informations on their number of lobbyists. The ranking is headed by MèTIS Europe, a non governmental organisation active on “mental health issues”, declaring 22,500 lobbyists. Fourth on the ranking comes Ecolog International FZE, a company based in the Dubai Airport Freetrade zone, declaring 8000 lobbyists (5250 full time equivalents). In the top ten we find three universities declaring thousands of lobbyists (Universidad de Granada, Queen Mary University of London and the University of Pavia). The Grande Loge Féminine de France (Institut Maçonnique Européen) holds the second position in our ranking (14,000 lobbyists) while another freemasons organisation, the Ordre Maçonnique International “Delphi”) ends at position 12, declaring 1200 lobbyists.

Such off-the-mark figures make it impossible to derive a realistic number of lobbyists declared in each category of the register, as becomes clear from the second and third column of the statistics for declared lobbyists per category. Only if the register secretariat starts making a more active effort to monitor the content of registrations and to secure corrections where necessary, the register will provide reliable and useful information on the number of EU lobbyists.

Other recent articles

January 30th, 2017
by Vicky Cann
One way to assess the relative lobby power of the corporate sector versus the civil society sector (aside from spending levels) is to look at the numbers of lobbyists each sector deploys. Continue Reading
Google logo
December 12th, 2016
by Vicky Cann
Google is, without doubt, one of the most active lobbyists in Brussels. Continue Reading
November 9th, 2016
by Vicky Cann
Will the Commission proposal for a new lobby register lead to less lobbying being declared, rather than more? This is a real possibility if the Commission gets its way. Here is why. Continue Reading
September 1st, 2016
by Vicky Cann
Monitoring lobby data is more important than ever to expose the extent of corporate influence over EU decision making. The relaunch of popular database Lobbyfacts.eu provides vital new tools for this, including a facility for tracking the lobby spending over several years. Continue Reading
September 1st, 2016
by Vicky Cann
New analysis by LobbyFacts reveals that 2013 was the tobacco industry lobby's top spending year. 2013 represents the height of the lobby battle over the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive and several key industry players dramatically increased their lobby spending to reflect that. Continue Reading
September 1st, 2016
by Vicky Cann
New analysis from LobbyFacts shows a consistent increase in car industry lobby spending from 2011, with a major increase in 2014. The declared spending for the car industry went from €7.6million in 2011 to €20.2million in 2014. Continue Reading