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 (MEPs). 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.
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.
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 have launched the Politics for People campaign, together with partners across Europe, to invite Euro candidates to pledge to “stand-up for citizens and democracy against the excessive lobbying influence of banks and big business”. And we hope to attract the support of hundreds of candidates (and ultimately MEPs) across the EU as the election campaign progresses. At the time of writing, more than 700 candidates across Europe have already signed our pledge so things are looking good!
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