Brussels is the lobbying capital of Europe. And with so many of our national laws starting life at the EU level, it is not difficult to see why. Big corporations, lobby consultancies and law firms spend hundreds of millions of euros every year to ensure that EU policy-making meets the needs of big business – and it works. In the past few years we have seen the processed food industry defeat proposals for health labels on packaging; the big banks avoid effective regulation after the financial crisis; and EU trade deals consistently put profits before people.
Whenever the European commission proposes a new regulation or the European parliament votes on a new law, corporate lobbyists are there, outnumbering and outspending public interest groups. And too often, these lobbyists receive a warm welcome from officials, commissioners, and members of the European parliament. Large corporations have easy access to commissioners and high-level officials, as do those firms that refuse to sign up to the EU's voluntary lobby transparency register. Some MEPs have even been caught red-handed tabling large numbers of amendments drafted by industry lobbyists.
"The European parliament needs MEPs who will be independent from corporate interests and who will fight on behalf of the public interest"
The commission consults more often with big business than with NGOs, unions and independent experts. For example, when the commission prepared for the ongoing negotiations on a sweeping trade deal with the US, the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP), almost 95 per cent of its meetings with stakeholders were with big business. This means that the secretive TTIP talks could end up undermining a wide range of public interest regulations. And without full transparency, lobbyists will be free to continue to peddle influence in secret and without restriction.
As a result of this situation, it is not difficult to see why many European citizens feel they are alienated from the decisions made in Brussels and that European decision-makers do not listen to them.
"It's been a tough few years for Europe's citizens with spiralling unemployment and punishing austerity measures"
In our view, the European parliament needs MEPs who will be independent from corporate interests and who will fight on behalf of the public interest. The European parliament also needs MEPs who will ambitiously promote ethics and transparency in the EU's decision-making processes.
That's why we at ALTER-EU, the alliance for lobbying transparency and ethics regulation, have launched the 'politics for people' campaign, together with partners in 19 countries across Europe, to invite MEP candidates to pledge to "stand-up for citizens and democracy against the excessive lobbying influence of banks and big business". Already 350 candidates across the EU have signed up, and we hope to attract the support of many hundreds more as the election campaign progresses.
We hope that candidates taking our pledge will work with us in the next parliament to demand the introduction of a mandatory transparency register at the EU level; to tackle the dominance of the financial industry and other big business lobbies during all steps of the EU legislative process; to support citizens' 'right to know' and participatory democracy; and to work to ensure the eradication of conflicts of interest in all EU institutions.
It's been a tough few years for Europe's citizens with spiralling unemployment and punishing austerity measures. It's time for a change; it's time we had MEPs who will stand-up for citizens and democracy against the excessive lobbying influence of banks and big business.
For more information about the politics for people campaign see: www.politicsforpeople.eu
Follow us on Twitter at @altereu and #pforp