One of the burning questions in the debate about EU lobbying is what the balance is between lobbyists representing businesses and those representing other, public interests. One would expect the EU’s lobby transparency register to provide clarity, but unfortunately the data remains too unreliable to give a precise answer.
The figures for total number of lobbyists declared cannot be used to assess the balance between different interests as several organisations have declared unrealistically high numbers of lobbyists. For example, in the category of “Trade Unions”, the Fédération CFDT Banques et Assurances declares 550,000 lobbyists while having no lobbyists accredited at the European Parliament. Similarly, in the category of “Trade, business & professional associations”, the Fédération européenne et internationale des Patrons Prothésistes dentaires declares 250,000 lobbyists but has no lobbyists accredited at the EP. In the category for companies, AERNNOVA and Eramet each declare 4,000 lobbyists (no lobbyists accredited at the EP) and among NGOs, the Svenska Teknik&Designföretagen declares 35,000 lobbyists (none accredited at the EP) with the Romanian Poultry Association coming in second place with 25,000 lobbyists declared (none accredited at the EP).
In practice such off-the-mark figures make it impossible to derive a realistic number of lobbyists declared in each category of the Transparency Register. Only if the Register Secretariat starts making a far more active effort to monitor the content of registrations and to secure corrections where necessary, the Transparency Register will provide reliable and useful information on the number of EU lobbyists.
But there is information in the Transparency Register 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. There are currently (14 January 2015) 7,446 registrants of which 4,454 are different types of commercial lobbyists. This is 59.8 per cent of the total number of registrants. The share of NGOs among the total registrants is 25.9 per cent (1,926). 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: 66.8 per cent (3,385 out of 5,066) are held by commercial lobbyists, 24.4 per cent (1,236 out of 5,066) by NGOs. Of course, not all lobbyists register for an accreditation badge for the European Parliament and so these numbers, again, are 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.