Pressure groups: How lobbyists threaten democracy

1 May 2015 – VoxEurop El Confidencial

The latest report published by the NGO Transparency International on lobbying in Europe was carried out in 19 European countries and identifies "inappropriate political interference and a practically unlimited influence of commercial interests", as El Confidential reports. Only seven countries – Austria, Slovenia, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland and the UK —

have a specific law or ruling on lobbying. This absence [in other countries] means a virtually unrestricted influence of commercial interests in citizens' everyday lives.

The study analyses elements such as the existence of guarantees for the transparent practice of lobbying according to certain principles, both in European countries and in the EU's three central institutions (the Parliament, Commission and Council). It also examines mechanisms that allow citizens to have fear and equitable access to political decision-makers. The rapport takes into particular consideration sectors like alcohol, tobacco, automobiles, energy, finance and pharmaceuticals.

The findings are not encouraging. When it comes to lobbying best practice, the average score for the 19 countries is 31% when compared to international standards. At the top of the list is Slovenia with 55%, while Cyprus and Hungary sit at the bottom with 14%. Italy, Spain and Portugal, three countries severely affected by the crisis, also make for gloomy reading, scoring 20%, 21% and 23% respectively. The report states that these are countries where "the close links between the public and financial sectors increase the risks" and which are positioned immediately after countries at the bottom of the list.

For El Confidencial, "Europe should undertake urgent reform of lobbying" which, as Transparency International bemoans, is hardly regulated in the continent, to the extent that it could "undermine democracies in the region." So "none of the assessed European countries and institutions adequately manage the movement of officials from the public to the private sectors" – the so-called "revolving doors". This comes in spite of the fact that officials are "the prime target for lobbying or influence-building activity." The Spanish website gives the case of Portugal, where since 1974 54% of ministerial positions have been filled by professionals from the banking sector. In France and Spain, as well as in Portugal, members of parliament are able to engage in lobbying and advising even while they are carrying out their political function.

The notable recommendations made by Transparency International to regulate lobbying in Europe, quoted by El Confidencial, include:

Adopting an exhaustive regulation on lobbying. […] making obligatory recordings of lobbyists. […] creating "legislative traceability" to identify the route taken by the legislative proposal up to its approval [and] establishing minimum "quarantine" periods which must elapse before former civil servants and elected officials can take on lobbying jobs.

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