Wednesday, 20 May 2009

MEP-turned-lobbyist shuns voluntary register

A few weeks ago, in our ‘Inside the Brussels Bubble’ blog, we wondered how many of the MEPs not standing for re-election would go through the revolving door into new jobs as industry lobbyists.

Some high-profile MEPs went through the revolving doors to join Brussels lobby consultancy firms after the 2004 elections: Pat Cox (now with APCO as well as EU lobby advisor for Microsoft, Pfizer and other large firms), Elly Plooij van Gorsel (Blueprint Partners), former Labour MEP David Bowe (Gplus) and Rolf Linkohr, who after 25 years in the European Parliament set up his own lobby consultancy working for energy firms. None of these ex-MEPs feature in the Commission's lobby transparency register, because the Commission – astonishingly – does not ask for lobbyists’ names to be disclosed. One can only hope that the Commission remedies this blunder when the register is reviewed next month.

Lobby consultancy firms APCO, Blueprint Partners and Gplus have registered (although the information these firms disclose about their lobbying activities is very limited, but that’s another story). Rolf Linkohr’s ‘Centre for European Energy Strategy’ (CERES) is nowhere to be found in the register. CERES specialises in lobbying (advice) for large energy corporations, including the nuclear industry. Last week Corporate Europe Observatory contacted CERES to ask why they had not voluntarily registered. The CERES staff appeared unpleasantly surprised by our question. They eventually responded in writing, but refused to disclose the names of clients and said they would now look into what the register was about before they made any decision on joining.

CERES is located on the prestigious Avenue Tervuren, a few metro stops from the Commission headquarters. It is on the same floor as (and shares a doorbell with) the European Association of Coal and Lignite (Euracoal). Whether CERES is lobbying for Euracoal remains unclear, as Euracoal refused to answer this question. Nor are they to be found on the Commission’s register (but told CEO they intend to register). Euracoal provides the secretariat for two of its 26 members, the German associations DEBRIV and Deutscher Kohlenbergbau. Among DEBRIV's members is energy giant Vattenfall, which has Linkohr as a board member.

Linkohr, meanwhile, has managed to stay in business after he was fired as a Special Advisor to Energy Commissioner Piebalgs in early 2007. He lost this prestigious job after concerns were raised about conflict of interests due to his double role as a public policy advisor and a lobby consultant for large energy multinationals. The rumour goes that Linkohr, as a Special Advisor, had a major hand in drafting the Commission’s strategic guidelines on energy and that he was instrumental in making Commissioner Piebalgs shift towards a much more explicit pro-nuclear energy position.

Linkohr is a prolific speaker on EU energy policy issues at industry lobby conferences across Europe. The activities of his lobby consultancy firm CERES, however, remain shrouded in secrecy. This raises the question that if prominent former MEPs, who are now lobbyists, do not even feel any need to join the Commission’s register, how can Mr. Kallas expect his voluntary approach to work?


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Documentary reveals car lobby perks for MEPs

An interesting documentary on Dutch television yesterday showed the massive influence of the car lobby in EU capital Brussels. The car lobby uses a range of different tactics, including some that come close to influence peddling. MEP Malcolm Harbour, who has a strong say in Parliamentary decision-making on environmental standards for cars, routinely borrows luxurious new cars for 'test-drives', accepts invitations to attend grandprix racing events and other treats courtesy of the car industry. For details, see also the entry about Malcolm Harbour on the MEPedia website. Mr. Harbour (a former car designer) claims he needs to understand the latest technology.

The documentary revealed that it is very common both for Commission officials and MEPs to buy cars at reduced rate. Every major car brand has a special 'diplomatic sales' branch in Brussels offering 20-25% discounts exclusively for MEPs and other EU officials. This has been going on for decades. Here's an example of FIAT's 'diplomatic sales' website:

The influence of the car lobby became very clear when Enterprise Commissioner G√ľnter Verheugen, Ari Vatanen MEP (former rally driver), Malcolm Harbour MEP, and MEP Herman de Croo, who chairs the European Transport Safety Council were interviewed about car safety standards. Asked whether the car industry should be obliged to use the best available technology in order to reduce accidents and mortality rates, all of these influential players repeated the 'integrated approach' mantra promoted by the car lobbies.

To steer free from stricter car safety regulations, lobbyists have successfully convinced EU decision-makers that driving behaviour, trees next to roads and other infrastructure are as important factors. Important as they may be, these are matters which MEPs have no power over as they are controlled at member state level The result: preserving the status quo.