Lobbyism in the EU

Lobbying happens and it is under discussion. See 3 films showing different points of view regarding this phenomenon:

Adam Smith Foundation:

Criticism by is4profit.com:

European Commission’s representation in Ireland:

What means lobbying?

Lobbying within the EU and its member states gains more and more a matter of public discourse. But what means lobbying?

The term corresponds to „lobby“ – „entrance hall“ – of a parliament like the British House of Commons or the US congress. It is the place where representatives of interest groups meet politicians in order to maintain personal relations with decision makers, to ‘explain’ their wishes and to talk about the positive or negative consequences of their political strategies.

The_Lobby_of_the_House_of_Commons,_1886_by_Liborio_Prosperi_('Lib')Picture: The Lobby of the House of Commons, 1886, by Liborio Prosperi (‘Lib’) (died 1928), Wikimedia Commons

Today, the „lobby“ can be a café for an appointment between a lobbyist and a deputy, the Brussels representative office“ of an organisation or company, the office of a MP (member of parliament), the ballroom of a hotel or just a telephone and the internet/social media. Representatives from companies and their organisations, from trade unions, churches, NGOs, etc. make their voices heard in different ways: Through in-confidence talks, events with decision-makers, public relations and contributions in the mass media, researches, enquiries, reports and their promotion, teaching material for schools, draft legislation for commissioners and amendments for MPs as well as providing expertise which shall disburden a deputy who normally faces a very high workload and relatively small budget.

The aim of lobbying activities is to gain a) direct influence to „very important persons“ in the legislative and executive area of politics in order to bring particular interests into a common law for everyone and to take b) indirect influence through shaping the public opinion.

Lobbying is a business: Politicians benefit (often through gifts or donations) from interest groups. The contrary is also possible, they can experience political pressure when lobbyists threat a company relocation by moving abroad.

Moreover, if a politician cooperates very well, he/she has the chance to switch the side and to cover a higher position in a company. Several examples exist, one is the former Minister of Special Affairs and Chief Executive of the Bundeskanzleramt, Mr. Roland Pofalla, who is now Fully Authorised Representataive for Political and International Relations at the German Railway Company, Deutsche Bahn.

The term lobbying often has a negative ‘sound’. That’s why other words are used such as „public affaires“, „political communication“, „issue management“ or „political consulting“.

How many lobbyists are working in the EU, in Brussels? There are no exact information available. It is estimated that between 15.000 and 30.000 people act as lobbyists, two thirds among them on behalf of the economic sector and 10% of non-governemental organisations.

Lobbying could be regarded as being a ‘normal’ part of democracy. Groups of almost every economic and society’s sector try to push their interests on the political agenda and to bring them into legislation. However, the economic and other capacities between the lobby groups are very different. The power to gain influence varies for example between a ‘player’ of the car industry sector and one who wishs to strengthen citizenship education at EU level.

Meanwhile, the problem of lobbying is also discussed within the EU institutions. A general claim is more transparency. For that reason, an EU lobby register has been established in 2008. It is still voluntarily, there is no duty to disclose lobbying activities. Other proposals to limit lobbying target to more scientific assistance for parliamentarians as well as commissions in order to ensure broad information, to establish scientific services like in other parliaments (e.g. the congress in the USA) and to forbid politicians to change to companies directly, without a longer break of 1,5 to 3 years. Moreover, expert groups (brain trusts) of the European Commission like for example The Platform for Tax Good Governances shall consists of different interest groups to practise pluralism and to develop decisions which may be inspired by the reason which results from taken different points of view into consideration.


+ Corporate Europe Observatory, lobby planet. Brussels. The EU quarter, http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/publications/ceolobbylow.pdf

+ European Parliament, Shedding (more) light on Brussels lobbies, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=IM-PRESS&reference=20071012STO11624&format=XML&language=EN

+ Library of the European Parliament, Lobbying the EU institutions, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/bibliotheque/briefing/2013/130558/LDM_BRI%282013%29130558_REV1_EN.pdf

+ Lobbyismus in der EU, Portal Lobbypedia, https://lobbypedia.de/wiki/Portal_Lobbyismus_in_der_EU

+ Maras, Konstandinos, Lobbyismus in Deutschland, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 3-4, 2009 (Themenheft Korruption)

+ Schöbel, Enrico, Lobbyismus, in: Gablers Wirtschaftslexikon, http://wirtschaftslexikon.gabler.de/Definition/lobbyismus.html

+ University of Manchester, Lobbying within the EU, http://www.policy.manchester.ac.uk/resources/civil-servant/skills/the-_eu/eu_lobbying/

+ University of Southampton, Lobbying, http://www.southampton.ac.uk/citizened/activities/active_citizenship/tasktwo_lobbying.html

+ Wikpedia (in German): http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobbyismus

+ Wikipedia (in English): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobbying

+ Wikipedia (in French): http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobby

All internet sources have been clicked on 08/01/2015.

Example: The European Round Table of Industrialists

ERT presented by its Chairman Leif Johansson:

The European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) is regarded as one of the most influencial lobby organisations in Europe. It was founded in Paris in April 1983 from 17 European industrial leaders and 2 members of the European Commission. The initiator was Pehr Gyllenhammar, chief executive of Volvo who cooperated closely with Etienne Davignon, Commissioner for Industrial Affairs and Energy (1981-85). The meeting was also attended by Karl Beurle (Thyssen), Carlo De Benedetti (Olivetti), Wolfgang Seelig (Siemens), Umberto Agnelli (Fiat), Peter Baxendell (Shell), Olivier Lecerf (Lafarge Coppée), Wisse Dekker (Philips), Bernard Hanon (Renault), Helmut Maucher (Nestlé)., and others. The other participant from the European Commission was François-Xavier Ortoli, 1977-85 Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs.

Today, the European Round Table (ERT) connects leading managers from 50 of the biggest transnational companies within the European Union. The ERT therefore represents corporates with app. 6,8 million salaried employees and a total sale of 1,3 trillion Euro (1.300 000 000 000 €).


The intention to establish an efficient interest group of industrialists is described as the following:

It was the occasion for a great deal of lively debate and the first airing of many of the ideas and concerns that were to preoccupy ERT for the coming 20 years: high costs and low profits, fragmentation of the European market and excessive interference by governments, and the fundamental need to maintain and rebuild an industrial base in Europe across a broad strategic front, from new technologies to telecommunications.“ http://www.ert.eu/about#ERT%20Stucture

What about the aims?

At the ERT’s website is written: The chief managers „.. sought to create an organisation able to alert governments to the parlous state of the European economy.“ and: „The overarching objective would be to promote competition and competitiveness on a continental scale. http://www.ert.eu/about#ERT%20Stucture

The more concrete aims are to deepen and ensure:

+ the European Single Market,

+ a continentalwide circulation infrastructure,

+ efficient educational systems,

+ pension reforms in the national states,

+ liberalisation of the sector of public utilities

+ flexible labor market



The ERT is perceived as the „strategic mastermind“ of the two most important EU projects: the Single Market and the Monetary Union with the creation of the Euro. Furthermore, the lobby group has pushed the EU enlargement in 2004, the so-called Bologna process to implement reforms and more market within the educational sector and the Lisbon strategy. The ERT started with big infrastructure projects such as the eurotunnel (or channel tunnel), the high spead railway network between London, Hamburg, Rom, and Paris, and others.

How does the ERT act?

The industrialists act discretely. „The ERT does not seek for media attention.“ (Prenner, p. 15) ERT lobbyists try to get a close relationship with decision-makers at national and EU level. They address their wishes and concerns directly to members of the European Commission, the European Council (prime ministers of the EU states), the Council of Europe (ministers) and MEPs. ERT members do not only advocate policies but also try to shape debates on EU policy priorities and strategic aims and objectives. They do usually not focus on specific legislation. It is the framework, a general idea and political logic which the ERT members seek to implement.

For that reason, the ERT does not work with lobbyists who are accredited to the European Parliament. The ERT itself or companies linked with the ERT gain influence on decision makers and the political agenda by founding particular institutes and initiatives like The Association of the Monetary Union of Europe or the Competitiveness Advisory Group. Furthermore, the ERT established working groups consisting of company experts and working in the fields of competition policy, governance in the EU, employment, trade, entrepreneurship, climate change, education, and others.

ERT instituts/initiatives and working groups publish a multiplicity of researches, reports and policy recommandations to strengthen specific contents and to force politicians acting in a requested direction.


Although the ERT is not well-known, its strategies to shape the political agenda of the EU are criticised by different authors and organisations. It is argued that the relationship to the European Commission is too closely. The former secretary general of the ERT, Keith Richardson himself quoted a critical voice: „The political agenda of the European Commission has to a large extent been dominated by the ERT. … While the approximately 5000 lobbyists working in Brussels might occasionally succeed in changing details in directives, the ERT has in many cases been setting the agenda for and deciding the content of EC proposals.” (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=, p. 30) That’s why ERT members also address their claims to EU prime ministers directly.

The ERT strengthens particular interests of corporate leaders with a specific interpretation of market and economy. This focus of interest has been generalised and put in strategic EU decisions and political projects. Social aspects of the European integration process as well as market regulations to avoid instability and relevant inequality have been neglected.

Further information:

+ Corporate Europe Observatory, Europe Inc., Writing the Script: The European Roundtable of Industrialists, http://issuu.com/plutopress/docs/balanya_europe_inc_chapter_3/1?e=0

+ European Round Table of Industrialists, About ERT, http://www.ert.eu/about#ERT%20Highlights

+ European Round Table of Industrialists, ERT Highlights, http://www.ert.eu/system/files/uploads/2010%20October%20-%20ERT%20Highlights.pdf

+ The European Round Table of Industrialists in the EU transparency register: http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/consultation/displaylobbyist.do?id=25487567824-45

+ Glasnost, Was ist der ERT?, http://www.glasnost.de/db/Europa/ert-wasert.html

+ Greenwood, Justin, Representing Interests in the European Union, St. Martin’s press, INC. New York 1997

+ Netzfrauen, Skandale in der EU – Wer steuert die Europäische Union wirklich?, http://netzfrauen.org/2014/11/08/skandale-in-der-eu-wer-steuert-die-europaeische-union-wirklich/

+ Prenner, Marianne, ERT – European Table of Industrialists. Neoliberaler Think Tank der EU? Universität Wien, Institut für Politikwissenschaft, 2003, http://www.evakreisky.at/onlinetexte/prenner.pdf

+ Richardson, Keith, Big Business and the European Agenda. Reflections on the activities of the European Round Table of Industrialists, 1988-98, Sussex European Institute, working paper No. 35, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

+ Wikipedia (in English): European Round Table of Industrialists, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Round_Table_of_Industrialists

+ Wikipedia (in German): European Round Table, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Round_Table



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