Written by Gianluca Sgueo
Lobbying has become an increasingly prominent issue in the European Union (EU) political and institutional debate over the past 20 years, with many comparing Brussels to Washington DC in this regard. The principal reason for this phenomenon is almost certainly the growing role of the EU as a policy-maker. As the EU institutions have expanded their regulatory competence in areas such as environmental law, the single market and consumer protection, and policy proposals have become more complex, they have increasingly come to rely on technical expertise to draft legislation, provided by outside interest groups among others.
In parallel, criticism of the balance of interests represented through lobbying in EU decision-making has grown. Concerns relate to the lack of official (and reliable) estimates of the number and type of interest groups, the amount of money spent on lobbying, and possible conflicts of interest. It is difficult to calculate the cost of opaque (or under-regulated) lobbying, either in monetary terms or in loss of confidence in EU institutions, but it may be argued that regulation of lobbying could have an impact in both these regards. Efforts to improve transparency of lobbying at EU level are on-going. A revised European Transparency Register was launched in January 2015, and the European Commission has published a roadmap for the adoption of a mandatory register, whilst the Council of the EU launched discussions on initial steps towards joining the transparency register already established by the Commission and Parliament.