The Risk-Monger

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) has been built on contradictions: the anti-lobbying lobby group; a group fighting for transparency through admittedly rather opaque means; and an anti-globalisation front group attacking others for operating as front groups. That CEO can continue to attack others while covering up their own contradictions strikes me as odd: they must either be morally exhausted or completely oblivious to their own reality.

I recently taught a course on lobbying at a Brussels university and for the session on lobbying, ethics and transparency, I thought it would be useful to invite CEO or ALTER-EU to come to speak to my students. Their reply was that they did not agree with the concept of teaching people how to lobby. I found this to be a strange response. Are they pretending that lobbying will just go away? That we should not teach people how to lobby properly and ethically? Was everything they were doing for the Transparency Initiative just a sham?

CEO define lobbying in an unusual manner. CEO only attack lobbying or lobbyists if they come from industry (because corporates use their influence, others apparently do not). They do not attack NGO lobbying campaigns, or NGO activists that take positions in governments. If lobbying can be defined broadly as the ability of someone to influence a decision-making process, then environmental activists are the most successful lobbyists in Brussels. Quite honestly, industry lobbying attempts in Brussels are rather hopeless and comic at times. CEO and their sister group, ALTER-EU, serve as a useful tool for NGO lobbying campaigns, by lobbying against “corporate” lobbyists at the height of EU policy debates. It is an effective way to flank policy-makers to make them feel awkward listening to a particular interest group that CEO may disagree with. What an clever lobbying trick!

Is CEO a front group? Back in 2005, I did a bit of research into this ‘research’ organisation, when they started to make some noise. Based on figures from 2004 (no longer available on-line), CEO had a budget of around € 69,000, from which they had five people associated with the organisation. The budget seemed quite small to pay five salaries and run an office. A simple Google search of the names on their website showed that these five individuals all had email addresses with other organisations (Friends of the Earth, Attac Deutschland, two from Aseed and the Transnational Institute (TNI), where CEO founder and anti-Europe campaigner, Erik Wesselius is based). Curiously, when the TNI moved offices that year, so did CEO, on the very same day, from and to the very same offices as the TNI. In other words, CEO was being run by Erik out of the TNI while pretending to be a larger, independent organisation. This to me seems to be a good definition of a front group, at the very time when CEO launched a campaign against BSEF for being, heaven forbid, a front group.

Funding sources: Now they have offices in Brussels and more staff which implies that they have come into some money. So giving CEO the same scrutiny they give to others, let us see where their money is coming from. Well, that is kind of difficult as more than half of their budget for the last year (€199.672) is coming from an organisation that we know very little about – the Isvara Foundation. Their shell website indicates that the Isvara Foundation is anti-liberal and against such institutions as the World Bank and the European Commission. Who works for this anti-institutional foundation? Where are they based? Nothing. I wrote to them to ask for more information … no response (they must be too busy funding groups to save the world from shady organisations). Since I wrote them they added to the website that the foundation was set up by a Mr Ayman Jallad and is managed from his bank in Zurich – hardly transparent but better than what they said in April. This does not stop CEO from attacking others for shadowy funding or less than transparent behaviour (talk about putting your money where your mouth is!).

CEO is also receiving funds from the Dutch office of Oxfam, which may seem like a very strange type of development project for Oxfam to fund until you look at the murky politics of who is heading their Dutch office. I wonder if contributors to Oxfam Novib (especially the employees at Philips who gave €1.5 million to Oxfam Novib last year) would be happy to know how their donations are being used to attack companies like … Philips. What a mess!

When faced with so many skeletons in your closet, a good hypocrite would not open the door, but CEO should not be so naïve to assume that others won’t be tempted to take a peek. Couldn’t they just pretend?

Transparency: The most delightful contradiction was to see EPACA taking CEO to court earlier this year for not being transparent in their lobbying. CEO employee, David Leloup, did not acknowledge his identity in his initial email contact with Burson-Marsteller. CEO first said he did not have to acknowledge that he was working for CEO as he was acting as a journalist (who happened to be listed on the CEO website as an employee) and then CEO claimed that he did identify himself and behaved properly. Take a look at the email exchange, where you will see the original email at the bottom of the page – there David used his private gmail account and signed the letter as a journalist – nothing about CEO or a transparent introduction that all corporate consultants are urged to do when contacting people. His behaviour was not very transparent, and not very honest. That EPACA tried to sue CEO over this nonsense was just to raise the point – practice what you preach and respect codes you insist that others must follow. CEO seemed to celebrate that the lawsuit was dropped as a victory without accepting that they did not respect good practices they demand others to hold to.

Are they morally exhausted or completely oblivious to their own reality? Like most hypocrites, I suspect they are completely oblivious.

Addendum from the Risk Monger dated 26 May 2010: You may have noticed that since the blog was published yesterday, the two links to the CEO site suddenly became broken – in other words, I suspect that CEO is trying to do something disingenious to hide some facts (integrity guys?). My apologies – I have left the links as is so you can see what they are doing. Erik, you should know that trying to get information off of the internet is like trying to get pee out of a swimming pool. If you don’t like when industry does it, then don’t do it yourselves. Sadly I expected CEO to behave like that. You can find CEO’s budget for the last year on the ETI registry website. A copy of the Leloup-Mack email exchange (as it was published in the public domain, I believe I have the right to reproduce it so long as it is not for commercial profit) is at leloup-mack-08032010 email exchange.

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  1. Great timing CEO – releasing a report hyper-inflating the number of financial services lobbyists just as the European Parliament finishes legislating the toughest regulation in the world about high-frequency trading. Did someone forget to tell them that numbers does not equate to influence?

    1. Thank you for your comment. It is even more rich Virginia when you consider that CEO receives about €200,000 from a foundation run by a financial services company in the Netherlands. Also, their apples = oranges approach is very juvenile – CEO tends to think that every company lobbying is adding to a mountain of influence – disregarding that companies tend to disagree on many elements (given competitive advantages) so it is highly unlikely that banks would be speaking with a single voice on something as controversial as HFT.

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