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|
|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|
|Other sub-national public authorities||59||1810||1363.25||104|
|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|
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.