Corporate capture - in depth

Lobbyists from the world of big business have embedded themselves inside the European Union's decision-making processes, creating a political culture where the influence of business has become the norm. Companies are spending ever increasing sums to influence the political process.


Corporate capture refers to the process whereby special interest groups, often business and industry groups, gain privileged access to policy-making processes, which gives them disproportionate influence, behind closed doors. The enormous influence of corporate lobbyists not only undermines democracy, but all too frequently results in the weakening, blocking or postponement of urgently needed progress on European social, environmental and consumer protection.

Friends of the Earth Europe challenges this corporate capture and sets out a way forward to building a more democratic and accountable European Union. As one of the founders of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), a civil society coalition advocating mandatory disclosure and rules on ethics for lobbyists in the European Union, we call for an end to privileged access and undue influence granted to corporate lobbyists in Europe.

We work to expose, for example, joint taskforces in which corporate interests are represented and public interests are not, and European Commission expert groups where corporate representatives largely outnumber civil society and consumer representatives.

Closed door discussions, where the agenda, content, attendees and outcomes, are not made public, have little place in well-functioning democratic institutions. They engender the kind of privileged access that is conducive to corporate capture. Without transparency there cannot be accountability, or any guarantee that the policy-process is functioning in a fair and democratic way.

Expert groups

Expert groups, set up by the European Commission to advise on policy-making, are comprised of public officials, academics and non-governmental representatives, often from the business sector. They suffer from a lack of transparency and democratic legitimacy. Friends of the Earth Europe has found that many groups are skewed in favour of industry.

The result is that these expert groups are primarily geared towards improving the competitiveness of European industry, at the expense of environmental and social objectives. Since their input often forms the basis for European Commission proposals, many of which become legislation, the transparency and balanced membership of these groups is extremely important.

The European Commission is required to consult those affected or likely to be affected by a policy on an equal basis. It is bound to take account of wider impacts, such as environmental impacts and consumer policy. The clear industry bias in how expert groups are established and in the recommendations they put forward means their place in our democracy must be questioned.

Friends of the Earth Europe calls on the European Commission to find more open and democratic ways of consulting stakeholders. There must be full disclosure, balanced representation and transparent mechanisms for the creation of expert groups.