Lobbying, for Citizens’ Sake
BRUSSELS, WITH ITS 25,000 LOBBYISTS, is a Mecca for special interests. In fact, corporate lobbyists outnumber representatives from NGOs and unions in the European Parliament by 60%. In light of that basic numerical reality, The Good Lobby is, in a way, the embodiment of the old adage, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” In The Good Lobby’s view, it’s not lobbying itself that’s the problem, but rather the disproportionate influence that corporate lobbies exert. And so, enter the “citizen’s lobby.”
In his book “Lobbying for Change,” Alberto Alemanno, the founder of The Good Lobby, explains that, in contrast to most national governments, the EU is a very open organization that allows for citizen participation in many different ways. The key is to make citizens aware of these existing channels for participation, and subsequently provide them with the toolbox necessary to influence European policy-making. The Good Lobby does so through organizing lobbying workshops, in which participants get their hands dirty by diving into to so-often murky world of lobbying.
Moreover, they set an example for others to follow. In 2012 Alemanno was involved in the One Single Tariff initiative, the first popular initiative to gather more than 1 million signatures from European citizens, which ultimately led to the abolition of roaming tariffs within the EU. Similarly, The Good Lobby uses channels of participation to hold European political parties accountable for refusing to correct the bad behavior of their members. It has asked the European Parliament to verify whether the European People’s Party and the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformist in Europe, two European political parties, have breached EU law by failing to expel Fidesz (Hungary) and the Law & Justice party (Poland) from their ranks. When the Parliament failed to start an investigation, The Good Lobby turned instead to the European Ombudsman, who is currently looking into the matter.
Though lobbying carries with it an intense negative connotation and evokes images of backroom dealing between industry and politicians, the Cambridge Dictionary defines it in a relatively sterile way; as any act undertaken “to try to persuade a politician, the government, or an official group that a particular thing should or should not happen, or that a law should be changed.” The dictionary is telling us that a good lobby doesn’t have to be an oxymoron. We, as European citizens, are responsible for defending our own interests. Big business understands how to make lobbying work—now it’s our turn.
This article appears in Are We Europe #4: This Is Not An Elections Issue