Journalists reveal a major scandal in the European Parliament. After 8 months of investigation relying on contacting Members of the European Parliament to offer them a financial retribution in exchange of law amendments proposals in the European hemicycle, the results are scary. Among the 60 deputies contacted by the fake lobbyists, 14 agreed to meet them and 3 are reported to have accepted, or at least expressed their willingness to do so, financial retribution (100 000€/y) against amendments proposals. In light of these event and the shortcuts frequently used in the media, it seems that some in-depth explanations should be given.
Giving amendments to deputies is no news
First of all, an amendment is a proposition to slightly change a legislative document: it can be represented as a modification (add or delete a sentence) or a rectification (numbers, analysis etc.)… The legislative proposals are submitted by the European Commission and amending theses texts is a way for the European deputies to influence the decision-making process.
Any deputy can propose amendments. They are first voted in Committees and then submitted to the Plenary Assembly to be agreed on one by one before the final vote on the entire text. In order to better picture the quantity of amendments proposed, it is almost 52 000 that were submitted to the plenary between 2004 and 2009. Their practical use can be summed-up as a way to better reach the expectations of the European societies in the Union’s laws.
The European lobbying field is still very vague and pretty complex in nature. One can find various undocumented approximations of the number of lobbyists working around the European Institutions, between 10 000 and 20 000, or 15 000 according to the European Commission. For many years, numerous lobbying agencies offer their services in specific areas, activity which can sometimes be a way to legitimate their presence in Brussels. One cannot know who pressures which deputy and through which channel. The lobbying code of conduct is supposed to provide a frame for lobbying practices but there is no way for any organisation or citizen to monitor whether or not these practices are in line with the text. One can find a list of lobbyists working with the European Institutions created by the European Commission but it is far from being extensive (3760 listed organisation until today).
If lobbyists manage to get their amendments voted, it is not always contradicting the society’s interest. Many European officials actually ask the advice of numerous organisations (industrial federations, NGOs etc.) in order to better picture a particular subject; for instance, the European Commission stated several times that the opinion of CONCAWE on REACH was very important to them and is strongly reflected in this text. Amending a legislative text is not the only way for lobbyists to influence European deputies. Indeed, one can find many different committees of experts formed to support the European Institutions’ decisions; then, if a lobbying agency manages to gain a committee, it will definitely be reflected in the committee’s advice to EU officials and lobbyists will have indirectly influenced the decision-making process.
Of course, this scandal is justified by the evidence of successful bribery in the EP. In order to avoid such a thing, the EP tries to develop new rules and adapt itself to the lobbying practices. The first was an increase in salary for MEPs (except for Italian representatives) and their assistants; it is supposed to prevent financial temptations and adjust revenues between Member States. New measures of control have already been implanted but it appears to be insufficient of inefficient.
What this scandal shows is the dire need for patrimony control over MEPs as well as a reinforcement of work monitoring in the European Assembly : an in-depth analysis of the EPs work in Committees, full disclosure of every proposed amendment which could be then compared to each other and more transparent procedure for the proposition-making process.