Crowding the corridors of power: corporate lobbyists outnumber NGOs and unions in the European Parliament by 60%

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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.

Parliament passes

In order to get a permanent access pass for the European Parliament, lobbyists have to be a member of the EU transparency register. The pass is popular as it enables lobbyists to walk about the Parliament without invitation, approach MEPs and their assistants in corridors or bars, and to knock on their office doors.

Registered companies and business trade associations holding EP passes (1118 organisations) declare 3042 EP passholders in total. As the table below shows, top passholders include: the European Chemical Industry Council, which is the biggest declared corporate spender on EU lobbying (once you remove the over-declarers), with 25 passes; BUSINESSEUROPE, which has had more high-level Commission lobby meetings than anyone else, with 21 passes; European Banking Federation with 19; and Insurance Europe, EURELECTRIC (the electricity industry association) and the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Deutscher Industrie- und Handelskammertag, DIHK), all with 17. Perhaps an anomaly on the list is Dods Group which is probably more of an information-gathering service, rather than a lobby organisation per se.

Top companies and trade associations holding EP passes

Organisation Lobbying costs EP passes Lobbyists (FTE)
European Chemical Industry Council 10220000 25 44.25
BUSINESSEUROPE 4000000 - 4249999 21 30
European Banking Federation 4000000 - 4249999 19 21
Insurance Europe 7250000 - 7499999 17 40.5
Deutscher Industrie- und Handelskammertag e.V. 2810000 17 18.25
EURELECTRIC aisbl 500000 - 599999 17 4.5
Dods Group PLC 500000 - 599999 15 15.5
Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies 1250000 - 1499999 15 7.5
EuroCommerce 400000 - 499999 14 3.25
Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie e.V. 3250000 - 3499999 12 25.5
Confederazione Generale dell'Industria Italiana 900000 - 999999 12 8.5
ENEL SpA 2000000 - 2249999 12 6.25
Johnson & Johnson 1750000 - 1999999 12 4.25
European farmers 1000000 - 1249999 11 18
BASF SE 2300000 11 12.5

By contrast, the total number of NGOs and trade unions registered with EP passes (666 organisations in total) together have 1906 passes to access the Parliament. That gives the corporate sector a lobbying army in the EP that is 60 per cent greater than civil society. As the table below shows, top passholders for civil society include: Bureau Europeeen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC) with 30 passes; Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (Federation of German Consumer Organisations) with 22; Transport and Environment (T&E) with 20; EUROCITIES (the network of major European cities and their elected governments) with 16; World Youth Alliance Europe with 14; and the European Youth Forum, Transparency International, WWF European Policy Programme and Climate Action Network Europe, all with 13.

There are also some surprising entries in this list. The Turkish organisation Uluslararası Türk İşadamları Derneği joined the register in October 2016 but has already secured 12 EP passes. As a new entrant it is not yet required to declare a lobby spend. It describes itself as an International Turkish Contractors Association (translation) implying that it might better fit within the trade association category, rather than as an NGO. Similarly, the European Milk Board might also be best described as a trade association rather than a trade union.

Top NGOs and unions holding EP passes

Organisation Lobbying costs EP passes Lobbyists (FTE)
Bureau Europeen des Unions de Consommteurs 1750000 - 1999999 30 19.5
Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband 900000 - 999999 22 35
Transport and Environment 3500000 - 3749000 20 19.25
EUROCITIES 4750000 - 4999999 16 30
World Youth Alliance Europe 100000 - 199999 14 2.75
WWF European Policy Programme 2000000 - 2249999 13 21.75
Transparency International 1000000 - 1249999 13 16.25
Climate Action Network Europe 800000 - 899999 13 15.75
European Youth Forum 2750000 - 2999999 12 28.5
Open Society European Policy Institute 2250000 - 2499999 12 19.75
Uluslararası Türk İşadamları Derneği (UTIAD) new registrant 12 9
ONE 400000 - 499999 12 6.25
European Transport Workers' Federation 400000 - 499999 12 5
European University Association 2500000 - 2749000 11 38.5
Greenpeace European Unit 952627 11 7.25
ClientEarth 200000 - 299999 11 3
European Milk Board 200000 - 299999 11 2.75

There are no figures available to show which organisations use their passes the most and therefore carry out the most in-person lobbying within the European Parliament. But the number of passes held by organisations in the register is a good barometer of which sectors have the most lobby influence because (unlike all other information in the EU lobby register which is self-declared and therefore subject to under- or over-estimating) data on EP passes is directly drawn from the Parliament’s own database and so is factual. Registered organisations can apply for as many passes as they wish; there is no upper limit, although there may be daily limits imposed on the number of lobbyists from one organisation in the EP at the same time.

But of course the number of EP passholders is not an accurate indicator of total lobbyist numbers active in Brussels, only of how many EP lobby passes have been issued. Many other lobbyists are active in Brussels, including around the Commission, but without holding an access pass. Therefore, EP passes do not reflect total lobbyist numbers.

Self-declared lobbyist numbers

The other information in the lobby register about lobbyist numbers is a self-declared figure for the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) lobbyists. For companies and trade associations that have EP passes (1118 organisations), the self-declared number of full-time equivalent (FTE) lobbyists is substantially higher, at 3300, than for trade unions and NGOs with EP passes whose total is 2467 (for 666 organisations). Once again, civil society lobbyists are outnumbered by those representing corporate interests, in this case by 34 per cent. Clearly the higher number of corporate lobbyists reflects the greater overall number of corporate organisations which are lobbying the EU.

The trouble with these self-declared figures is that they can be subject to under- or over-estimations. For example, a number of civil society organisations clearly over-declare their FTE lobbyist numbers, leading to inflated overall numbers for this sector. Does the European Elite Athletes Association really have only one EP passholder but 100 full-time lobbyists? Probably unlikely. Ditto, does the Cyprus Neuroscience & Technology Institute only have one EP passholder but deploy 27.5 full-time lobbyists? There are many other examples of likely over-estimated lobbyists numbers, especially by civil society organisations. This implies that the imbalance between lobbyists deployed by the corporate and the civil society sectors may be even greater than the above percentages portray.

Even greater imbalance?

Furthermore, there are some organisations which have wrongly declared themselves to be NGOs or trade unions, such as the International Swaps and Derivatives Association whose members include Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and HSBC. ISDA is actually a lobby trade association for the financial industry, not a trade union!

And what about lobby consultancy firms which overwhelmingly represent for-profit interests? The table below shows which organisations on the register hold the most EP passes overall, and lobby consultancy firms (lobby guns for hire) dominate with 10 out of the 15 organisations listed. The only not-for-profits on this list are BEUC and T&E. Lobby consultancies with EP passes number 214 organisations in the lobby register, yet hold as many as 924 EP passes in total.

Organisations holding the most EP passes

Organisation Lobbying costs EP passes Lobbyists (FTE)
Fleishman-Hillard 6250000 - 6499999 53 26.5
FTI Consulting Belgium 1750000 - 1999999 38 35
Burson-Marsteller 5000000 - 5249999 32 35
Bureau Europeen des Unions de Consommateurs 1750000 - 1999999 30 19.5
Kreab 3750000 - 3999999 27 30
FIPRA International Limited 1250000 - 1499999 26 27.25
European Chemical Industry Council 10220000 25 44.25
G Plus Ltd 2750000 - 2999999 24 19
APCO Worldwide 2500000 - 2749000 22 6.75
Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband 900000 - 999999 22 35
BUSINESSEUROPE 4000000 - 4249999 21 30
cabinet DN consulting sprl 3750000 - 3999999 21 30
Brunswick Group LLP 1750000 - 1999999 21 12.25
Interel European Affairs 4750000 - 4999999 20 25.5
Transport and Environment 3500000 - 3749000 20 19.25


The private sector has more organisations lobbying the EU, spends more on lobbying, and deploys more lobbyists than NGOs and trade unions. In the Parliament, the analysis of the number of lobbyists shows that the corporate sector has 60 per cent more than that of civil society. If you factor in lobby consultancies, the imbalance becomes even more stark.

All LobbyFacts data correct as of 25 January 2017.
All LobbyFacts data calculated using a filter to exclude all organisations without EP passes, in order to try to eliminate the worst examples of over-declarations of lobbyist numbers.
In the above, corporate sector = companies and trade associations.
The civil society sector = NGOs and trade unions.
Law firms, think-tanks, religious bodies, regional bodies and others were not allocated a category.

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