Keeping tabs

Logging in the Lobbyists

Very quietly going about their business.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A thorough register of lobbyists is key to a transparent European Union.

  • Facts


    • There are at least 15,000 lobbyists in Brussels.
    • About 60 percent of lobbyists are associated with companies or their trade groups.
    • Germany maintains the second-largest number of lobbying organizations in Brussels.
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Any German who believes that his interests are not being represented in faraway Brussels is wrong. In addition to the German government and European lawmakers from Germany, there is a giant network of at least 15,000 lobbyists who represent a hodgepodge of particular interests in European institutions. These include the European Parliament, the European Council, which comprises the 28 members’ political leaders, and the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch.

There is truly something for everyone in the world of Brussels lobbyists. As consumers, Europeans are represented by 22 lobbyists working for the European umbrella group of consumer organizations. The same applies, at the EU level, to the Taxpayers Association of Europe.

Every German state maintains an office representing its citizens in Brussels. Union members are represented by the Brussels office of the German Federation of Trade Unions, and if they happen to belong to individual German unions such as IG Metal or Verdi, they are even represented by two union organizations.

The German Firefighters Association represents the 1.3 million members of volunteer fire departments in Germany. The list goes on.

Germany has the second-largest number of lobbying organizations in Brussels, 856 of the total of 7,086 registered organizations.

Of course, there is no question that business interests dominate lobbying activity on the Brussels stage. About 60 percent of lobbyists are associated with companies or their trade groups, which are in the best positions to afford such representation.

And it is primarily the behind-the-scenes influence of these business lobbyists that attracts attention – and led to the introduction of a so-called transparency register in 2008.

The new European Commission has to heed the calls for a revised and, most of all, mandatory transparency register.

The register, which has been jointly maintained by the European Commission and the European Parliament since 2011, provides an overview of the Brussels lobbyist community, albeit one that is incomplete and difficult to understand.

The register gets a lot of criticism for its incorrect information. For instance, U.S. investment firm BlackRock quotes annual lobbying expenses of €125,000, but the Brussels lobbying agency Fleishman-Hillard receives €225,000 a year from BlackRock for lobbying services.

The new European Commission administration has to heed the calls for a revised and, most of all, mandatory transparency register. The deputy commissioner charged with the issue, Frans Timmermans, has already announced the necessary draft legislation – but whether it will be introduced at the beginning or the end of his term remains unclear.

Many organizations have merely listed their headquarters in Belgium but work for companies in other countries, such as consulting and law firms.

The register also includes one company each from India and Israel, three from Australia and four from Canada, the country with which the EU has just negotiated the controversial Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

The only Chinese company listed in the transparency register promptly made it into the top 10 of businesses that spend the most money trying to attract attention and gain influence. Huawei, which manufactures mobile phones, spends €3 million ($3.75 million) a year on its lobbying efforts in the EU.

The companies at the top of the list are oil producer Exxon, software giant Microsoft, energy company Shell, and cigarette company Philipp Morris.

The tobacco giant spends €5 million a year and the register says it maintains a staff of 10 in its Brussels office. Yet, documents released to the public show that when a tightening of EU tobacco regulations was being discussed last year, Philipp Morris had about 160 employees addressing the issue at times.

The case also shows that lobbyists don’t always get what they want. Just last month, a complaint that the tobacco maker had filed in Great Britain against the tougher tobacco guideline was referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Only 27 percent of companies on the transparency register have actual offices in Brussels.

The first German company on the list, Siemens, is in fifth place. According to the register, Siemens spends €4.3 million a year to have 21 people represent its diverse European interests in Brussels. In the section that lists specific topics, there are 62 entries, ranging from financial market regulation to the next railroad reform, the EU chemicals directive and the European renewable energy law.

If the information is correct, the cost of the company’s lobbying operation is less than a third of what the EU pays Siemens: about €7.3 million for public contracts and €8.8 million for subsidies, on research projects, for example.

Bayer, Daimler, Evonik and BASF follow in 7th, 11th, 12th and 14th place. Carmaker Daimler, based in Stuttgart, states that it spends €2.6 million for its lobbying office at the EU level, where it has a staff of ten. Interestingly, the company also notes: “Employees not working full-time in Brussels are included on a pro-rated basis.”

This suggests that it is not unlikely that other companies don’t even bother to take such part-timers into account.

Many businesses act through their trade associations, with 135 from Germany active in Brussels alone, including Adidas, Bosch, Deutsche Bahn and Eon. Non-governmental organizations and nonprofits are also part of the mix.

According to surveys by the anti-lobbying group ALTER-EU, only 27 percent of companies on the transparency register have actual offices in Brussels, including Apple, Heineken and Time Warner.

Until the register is working like it should do, the website offers a much more user-friendly way to find statistics.


This article first appeared in the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel newspaper. To contact the author:

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