Lobbying is a strange practice when we’re talking about how a government works. In theory, lobbying is what citizens can do to try and influence what their representatives do; write a letter, make a phone call, organize a meeting or rally… in some way, you’re lobbying your government. But of course when you see the word lobby in the context of government these days, it means something else. It refers to these groups of professionals, using various tactics to get government officials to vote a certain way. These lobby groups usually have a funding source, and it is very much a full time job. Lets try the webster dictionary definition:
Main Entry: 2lobbyFunction: verbInflected Form(s): lob·bied; lob·by·ingDate: 1837
intransitive verb : to conduct activities aimed at influencing public officials and especially members of a legislative body on legislation transitive verb 1 : to promote (as a project) or secure the passage of (as legislation) by influencing public officials
2 : to attempt to influence or sway (as a public official) toward a desired action
Whereas lobbying could be a legitimate and respected tool in different types of democracies, it can be, and has been, abused. Abused when groups with large amounts of money, mount concentrated and constant campaigns to get a representative to act in favor of their goals. Commonly “their goals” are connected to the interests of a corporation or a group of corporations, like the telecommunications, banking, or arms manufacturing industries. For such lobby groups the concern for the nation or society, is secondary to their business goals.
While this isn’t the only kind of lobbying that exists, it is certainly the type that has become must common and most well funded in capitals of nations around the world.
Unique from most other capitals in the world, Brussels is a city with a booming lobbyist population. The seat of the European Parliament and Commission, among other institutions, the decisions that come out of Brussels have impact in not just 1 nation, but in 27 member states. Yet while it has tremendous reach with its decision making, it is not as often or as closely scrutinized by its citizens the way their individual state governments are. Thus making it all the more easy for powerful interests with deep funding sources to expand and entrench their lobbying activities with little notice and even less criticism.
According to the Corporate European Observatory and a recent article in the EU Observer, the situation described above is actually far worse. Two years ago, in an attempt to get a handle on who is a lobby group and for whom, the EU commission created a voluntary registry system. Even after two years in existence, it seems more than 60% of Brussels based European Lobby Consultancies have not signed up. Another blatant sign that the lobby machine at the European level has settled in and feels no need to be accountable or transparent to the EU government or its citizens.