Law-making in the European Union is under scrutiny and the findings do not look good for democracy. Big business lobbyists have found their way into the heart of the EU legislative process, helping draft the laws which are then implemented across the whole of the EU.
The problem arises in the European Commission’s use of “expert advisers”, who are often business lobbyists, who are given the opportunity to influence how new laws are shaped. This corporate capture is distorting the decision-making process – and new rules are needed to ensure that big business’ interests are not allowed to dominate.
Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) is urging the Commission to tighten the rules to protect the public interest.
The Commission’s advisory groups, called ‘’expert groups’’, are a little known yet crucial part of Brussels’ policy-making process. They are set up by the Commission, an unelected body which is the source of EU legislation, to provide “expertise” on new laws.
The problem is that with big business interests dominating large numbers of the Commission’s advisory groups, the Commissions tends to receive one-side advice. Other interest groups, such as small businesses, professional associations, trade unions, consumers or public interest NGOs are grossly under-represented.
For example, the Group De Larosière which provided advice on banking reform in the EU was full of bankers(1). And their advice was broadly followed.
The Group of Experts on banking issues, set up to advise on capital requirements, was made up of more than 80% bankers. No surprise then that the Commission only proposed limiting capital requirements to 8%.
This advice often forms the backbone of a legislative proposal and the result is clearly business-friendly regulation that is not in the public interest.
Recent research for the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU)(2) has shown that big business interests dominate a huge number of the Commission’s DG Enterprise expert groups – while other groups rarely have a voice.
Earlier this year, Members of the European Parliament blocked part of the Commission’s expert group budget, demanding action to tackle the problems of unbalanced composition and lack of transparency.
But CEO is concerned that the proposals put forward by the Commission do not go far enough. We want to see is full transparency around expert groups, including the names of all expert group members, their declarations of economic interests and the contributions they make.
Information about all expert groups meetings should also be made available to the general public, including the agenda and minutes, so that people know what issues are being discussed.
And most crucially of all, there must be a commitment to ensure that all expert groups are balanced, including the voices of public interest groups. Safeguards against the domination of expert groups by corporate interests should be introduced in the Commission’s rules governing expert groups.
When MEPs reconsider this issue, we hope that both they and the European Commission will decide to act in the public interest.
Yiorgos Vassalos is a researcher and campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory