The European Parliament is the only directly elected institution of the European Union, elected every five years since 1979 and composed of 751 members, who represent the largest transnational democratic electorate in the world. The two largest groups are currently the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). Their numerical strength mean these are the most important for lobbyists to target on most dossiers.
Although they do not have the right to propose laws (legislative initiative), their legislative power to change the European Commission’s proposals for laws means that MEPs are nonetheless crucial for industry when pushing its agenda. The amount of lobbying targeting MEPs has increased sharply in the last decade – many lobbyists favourite method for influencing policy proposals is the submission of pre-written amendment texts to MEPs.
The number of amendments on a report is therefore one of the ways to detect intense lobbying around a European Parliament decision. If the number is very high, it often means that different MEPs have submitted identical amendments, some of which are often written by lobbyists. Incredibly, when the Parliament was reviewing the EU’s agricultural policy (CAP), the number of amendments reached over 8000! New rules for hedge funds after the financial crisis also generated many amendments written by industry lobbyists. In 2013, Belgian liberal MEP Louis Michel was found to have proposed more than 200 amendments to EU data- protection legislation that turned out to have been produced by industry representatives. Michel claimed he knew nothing of it and blamed the incident on an assistant, who was promptly sacked.
Another controversy is the conflicts of interest raised by second jobs for MEPs, with around 250 EU lawmakers remunerated for outside work in addition to the salary they receive as parliamentarians.
Side jobs as lawyers, board directors or consultants are especially problematic. The public-private revolving doors also spin with a vengeance at the Parliament. There have been numerous cases of MEPs and their advisers taking their expertise and contact books to corporate boards and lobby firms after they have left office.
MEP-industry groups and forums are another way for lobbyists to wield influence. These are platforms that connect MEPs and ‘interested stakeholders’ (predominantly industry representatives) to meet and discuss specific issues. While official intergroups are subject to specific (limited) transparency and ethics rules, the informal groups and forums are only expected to sign up to the transparency register.