It is estimated that there are over 25,000 lobbyists working in the European quarter, most of whom in the service of corporations and their lobby groups. And their efforts to influence the regulations and laws that affect a union of more than 510 million people do not come cheaply. Conservative estimates suggest that over €1.5 billion is spent every year on lobbying targets like the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and Brussels offices of national governments.

Lobbying is usually defined as any action attempting to directly or indirectly influence a policy-making process in favour of particular interest groups. This can include many different forms of communication and campaigns that aim to win over decision makers for supporting or derailing a particular policy.

Photo by Phil Manker (CC BY 2.0)

How are EU laws made?

EU law-making is complex, as legislative procedures vary depending on policy area. Most new laws or reforms are proposed by the European Commission and amended and ultimately approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. This most common procedure sees the Commission’s proposal, the Parliament’s amendments and the Council’s position negotiated into a (compromise) agreement by representatives of all three institutions during so-called “trialogue” meetings. These three-way talks on draft laws have often been criticised for their lack of transparency.

The European Commission: The Commission is the executive body of the EU, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the Union. There are currently 28 members of the Commission, one per member state.

Council of the European Union: The Council brings together the governments of the EU’s 28 member states and is one of the most impenetrable institutions of the EU: a veritable ‘black box’ for outsiders.

European Parliament: The European Parliament is the only directly elected institution of the European Union. Its 751 members represent the second largest democratic electorate in the world. Since 1979, EU citizens have elected the European Parliament every five years.”

Corporate capture

When these institutions that were set up to act in the public interest – for example by curbing climate change, defending workers’ rights, or regulating chemicals – instead prioritise the interests of powerful industries, we speak of the ‘corporate capture’ of EU policy-making.

The long-term goal of many industry lobbies is to sideline citizens’ interests in favour of corporate agendas, and their lobby efforts exploit varying channels of influence with the same purpose in mind.