The Risk-Monger


The Risk-Monger attended an event today on lobbying transparency hosted by the European Ombudsman entitled: Is Brussels the new Washington DC? For almost two hours, the room was forced to listen to talk about how to offset the influence of evil industry lobbyists – I was standing with the microphone in my hand, itching to tell the panel to stop the double-standards and witch-hunts against industry, but sadly, they had run out of time. Jorgo Riss, from Greenpeace, and Paul de Clerck, from Friends of the Earth, took up far too much of the conference time pontificating on how to control the baddies instead of asking questions. So here is the point I never got to ask.

An important difference between Brussels and Washington is that Washington does not discriminate between good lobbyists (those defending civil society that we are supposed to trust), and bad lobbyists (those representing job creators and innovators that the good lobbyists tell us we cannot trust). Washington, unlike Brussels, does not pay public funds to ensure that the Good Lobbyists have enough resources to run fear and hate campaigns against industry, agriculture, science and innovation.

The bottom line is that talk of lobbying transparency quickly turns to how to restrict industry from the dialogue table, how to ostracise industry data and scientists from EU agency panels and risk assessments and how to give more access and power to the little guys (the “Good Lobbyists”). Why this habitual denigration is not anticipated by lobbyists mystifies me. Industry was represented on the panel by the chairman of the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association, Karl Isaksson, whose tepid replies at a certain point allowed the moderator to completely ignore him. Why did EPACA send a sheep to defend their interests at a meeting of wolves?

Panel member and Clinical (???) Professor Alberto Alemanno has been pushing a campaign to get more money for what he calls the Good Lobby to counter-act lobbying by “the usual suspects”. The European Commission pays tens of millions every year to NGOs to run campaigns (including around €750,000 a year to Friends of the Earth), but apparently that is not enough. Alemanno even proposed that corporate lobbyists be taxed to make funds available for those wanting to do good for society. Pretentiousness aside, the EU does not yet have the power to introduce taxes, but when they do, I would propose taxing stupid ideas (as they waste Commission policymaking time).

The real wolf in the room was EU Ombudsman (sic), Emily O’Reilly, whose opening salvos against industry and the “Bad Lobby” completely floored me. I had thought that an ombudsperson needed to be objective and open, not biased, bitter and offensive to an important societal stakeholder. Here are some quotes from her speech that opened the event:

TTIP, the energy union, the digital single market, new data protection laws – the outcome of all of those current big ticket items and more will be felt by corporate bottom lines and influencing the processes that lead to that is precisely what so much of Brussels lobbying is about.

So EU lobbying is all about the corporate bottom lines? When I was involved in industry, we were concerned about fair playing fields to compete on, but it is good to know that the EU ombudsperson will ensure imbalance there. Ms O’Reilly went on about the tricks in lobbying the elites:

One apparent lobbying strategy is to attract academic, legal, and political elites to high level meetings of their peers, while simultaneously attracting corporate interests, for a fee, to attend the gatherings with the inducement of being able positively to influence the elites.

This gotcha moment is a bit bizarre since this process evolved from the Commission trying to encourage more stakeholder dialogue (I wish the EU Ombudsperson would read the Commission’s White Paper on Governance that highlights this strategy dating back 15 years). Some conference organisations have spotted a means to raise more money but these events usually are free for civil society and journalists. NGO groups do the same, but they just do not invite those who disagree with them (what we can call: “Green dialogue”).

What is stunning is the anti-industry invectives coming from the EU Ombudsperson – a post that is meant to be impartial. Lawyers, according to O’Reilly, apparently throw “sand in the eyes of the policy makers”. This is indicative of how common-place badmouthing industry has become in Brussels and how well-entrenched the Good Lobby v Bad Lobby nonsense has become. The Risk-Monger, for example, has identified cases where NGO activists have infiltrated panels (like EFSA) and influenced their decisions (banning an important crop protection product), but no action has been taken. As the activists on the EFSA panels are good lobbyists, how likely would the EU Ombudsperson act to clean up this conflict of interest in EFSA should a bad lobbyist request fair treatment? Ms O’Reilly has obviously nailed her bias to the masts – forget about fairness. In a normal world, she should be fired for such partiality and political grandstanding from what should be a impartial and objective post.

These are probably the thoughts going through the mind of Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans who also sat on today’s panel, serving as the wolf-keeper in the room. He was the only person today who impressed me, shouting down the ridiculous diatribes from the anti-industry NGO campaigners, reminding the audience that a good amount of information on social media are silly myths and questioning whether the NGOs have been transparent as well on who is funding their campaigns. Indeed, I was impressed with Timmermans’ BS detector and wanted to clap several times when he tore down the activists, but that would have drawn the wolves’ attention.

I imagine Timmermans left the room today thinking that it is not a question of if the EU Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, should be fired, but when. If she had any integrity, she would resign beforehand.

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