Dangerous Lobbying

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: 2lobby
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): lob·bied; lob·by·ing
Date: 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.

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Big Pharma Ads on Their Way

Anyone who has ever been to the United States, or watched commercials on American Television somehow, knows of the never-ending barrage of Pharmaceutical ads that have come to take over the gaps in between programming. They feature excessively clean and happy people walking through parks or high-fiving each other because some ailment they have has been cured by some brand name you should “ask your doctor about”. I can only imagine what its like to be a doctor in the United States today and have your patients coming up to you “asking about” a drug they saw on TV which they would like to have.

This has become the state of the American mediasphere, while over in the EU we still have in place relatively strong regulations preventing that kind of advertisement. Until now.

Ok perhaps the “until now” part makes things seem a little to dire, I would have done better to say that at this moment in time, the EU may relax its rules on Pharmaceutical and medical advertising.  Relaxing doesn’t mean we’ve got old people holding hands and discussing pills to lower their cholesterol on TV. But what we do have is a potential break from the clear policy of no medical advertising in the media.

The information is not easy to come by, perhaps due to its complexity or vagueness, so it is not exactly being discussed by the major news outlets.  What I’ve been able to gather at this point breaks down this way:

  • The change in policy would “allow pharmaceutical companies to provide information directly to consumers”
  • This was proposed in 2008, but put away soon thereafter due to strong criticism from member states.
  • The information they provide would have to be factual, objective, and not seek to advertise prescription drugs.
  • Any such information will go through a committee or a panel that will decide if it meets standards.

Of course many questions remain which I will now pose to various stakeholders and associations, regarding such a change.  Is this taking the EU down the same path as the United States, towards bombarding citizens with clever and appealing visuals regarding what they should choose for when it comes to health and medicine? Is there a push now within EU institutions to pursue this as early as this year? While I’m at it, just how powerful and influencial is the pharmaceutical lobby in Brussels?

Hopefully very soon Ill have some answers which you’ll be able to find right here in a future post.

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