Hidden lobbying could go unchecked under poor EU transparency proposals, says watchdog
In recent years, some of the most criticised lobbyists have been from the food industry, with some accused of blocking new sugar laws, for example.
The EU Commission this week published its plans for a revised lobby transparency register following a public consultation.
A statement by the Commission said: "Today's proposal also clarifies the scope of activities and bodies covered, bolsters the monitoring and effective enforcement of the Register's Code of Conduct for lobbyists and will simplify and improve the quality of data through streamlined input requirements and increased quality control."
The register remains largely unchanged but will become mandatory for the first time, although some campaigners have warned the proposal does not go far enough.
“The proposal still limits the ban on meeting unregistered lobbyists to the top levels of the Commission, which means the vast majority of lobby meetings will still be off the radar and unregistered lobbyists can go about their business unchecked,” Corporate Europe Observatory’s campaigner Margarida da Silva said in a statement.
“What the Commission puts forward is still a long way from a genuinely mandatory register that really boosts transparency.”
Food companies have come under fire in recent years for declining to share full lobbying information. Unilever, for instance, was featured in a report from transparency watchdog, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU).
The report claimed industry is exploiting loopholes in transparency rules enabling them to lobby permanent representations without being registered on the EU transparency register.
At the time, Unilever declined to comment.
Unilever said it spent up to €600,000 in 2015 on lobbying, according to LobbyFacts.EU, for issues including implementation of food information to consumers, novel foods and food reformation.
Industry bodies including the European Breakfast Cereal Association (CEEREAL) and FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) have also been scrutinised for using lobbying to block new EU laws on sugar.
Such industry groups have an estimated €21.3 million lobbying budget.
The Commission itself has been accused of bowing to lobby pressure over toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals – widely used in foods – which could pose a risk to human health.
Companies have previously urged the EU to launch a more solid definition of what constitutes lobbying. They include Nestlé, which reportedly previously asked for an exhaustive list of activities which define what falls within the scope of lobbying.
Nestlé spent up to €300,000 on lobbying in 2015, with issues concerning food information to consumers implementation, product reformulation and general food law, according to LobbyFacts.
Industry group lobby spending
Top publicly declared lobby spenders in the food industry include AGR Food Marketing, which made it into the top 25 biggest payers with its €4.6 million bill in 2014 when it took issues with food marketing. It spent over €4m in 2013 as well, LobbyFacts states.
FDE said it spent up to €300k on lobbying in 2015. Its issues include food information to consumers, food safety and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
However, FDE spending is still outstripped by Food Supplements Europe which forked out up to €400,000 in 2015, the European Dairy Association at almost €500,000 in 2015 and European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), which spent up to €1.8m.
European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) was 115 in terms of lobby money spent – around €1.7m in 2015. Issues lobbied include food and drink, agriculture, employment, trade negotiations, EU gender equality and company policy.
Poorly designed? Really?
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