We enter now the world of the EU Lobbyist. Second only after Washington, the Brussels bubble has between 10…and 100,000 lobbyists, depending on who you ask. No-one really knows. There is no compulsory register. But £3bn is spent on lobbying each year, so someone benefits. Most if them work for private sector organisations, like the City of London. The independent sector lobbies too, only on a much smaller scale. In one building, both British Petroleum and the island of Mauritius have their offices.It’s a peculiar bubble.
So, what does a lobbyist do? S/he tries to influence the key players in making laws, affecting, say, the economic or energy or environmental sectors they represent. Approaches include gifts, invitations, and the ‘revolving door’, offering second jobs to gain access to important people, like Commmissioners, MEPs and their assistants.
Take TTIP*, for example. Under a clause in the proposal, called ISDS, private companies could sue governments (but not the other way round) in a private court for loss of future earnings. In one instance, the tobacco firm, Phillip Morris, sued the Australian government over it’s decision to sell tobacco in plain packets on public health grounds.
Fortunately, the Australian government won the case and paid most of the costs. In another, Togo backed away from a legal challenge, because the cost of going to this court was more than its entire public health budget. Cigarettes stayed in their bright packaging in Togo.
Under ISDS, a single law firm is appointed to provide the judge, the Counsel for the Prosecution and for Defense, being paid for all three (£1,000 per hour) without any apparent conflict of interest.
Private sector industries understand the importance of public opinion on laws going through The Commission, which originates many of the proposals for the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. MEPs can also start legislation.
Companies may set up front groups of the ‘public’. These are really made up of individuals recruited by them, for example, patients’ groups, supporting pharmaceutical companies.
But the Commission is keen to know what the public thinks. TTIP is effectively sunk after a public consultation, in which over 150,000 people said ‘No’ to TTIP.
EU citizens and groupings are mistrustful of the big corporations. They realise they can’t rely on their public servants, not all of them, anyway. While some MEPs are excellent, others are, well…not quite so good.
More and more, there is a feeling that we have to take matters into our own hands. These matters are too important and more change needs to come from the bottom up, if it’s to come at all. Hence, there are growing numbers of peaceable, direct actions around the world, such as the protests against the Dakota pipeline against the big oil companies.
When the world outside makes people inside the Brussels bubble change, it changes. Because of its history, the EU wants to be seen to be listening to people, which makes it all the more important that we take this message back to our communities.
How will you do this?
*TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Programme