If you search up the definition of the word “lobby” it is defined as a group of people who attempt to influence the actions, policies or decisions of lawmakers or of those who have the power to take decisions. Although lobbying groups get a bad wrap they aren’t all conservative; for example an environmental association may lobby a legislature for a good cause. However in most cases lobby groups are connected with powerful industries with the intent to universalize their values and align them with the European Union.
How do lobby groups get their messages across? How can they reach the top brass?
To get what they want in Brussels.. above all they need people on site. Then they need a location and money, a lot of money. In the end, they need of course good access. They are everywhere. They take part in as many experts’ groups and technical committees as they can and if they gain their sympathy, the deed is done!
In this section we will give you the details about what usually happens in Brussels when a new law is implemented; especially if it concerns burning issue like the car emissions’ limits. It is important to note that in cases like this there are many overlapping interests, but the ones relative to the consumers and environment are always underrepresented.
CAR LOBBYISTS IN BRUSSELS: A PRESENCE INCREASINGLY PRESENT
Car lobbyists are gaining an increasingly strong presence in Brussels. They are some of the biggest players in the European industries with German manufacturer Volkswagen having 43 lobbyists, and trade associations Association des Constructeurs Européens d’Automobiles – ACEA – trade association in Europe or Verband der Automobilindustrie – VDA – trade association in Germany. Although these are the numbers reported by the Corporate Europe Observatory the official list is considered to be way higher.
Car lobby groups have an immense power and don’t come to play around; they have been reported to spend over 18 million euros on lobbying in Brussels alone in the year of 2014 (we can expect that it has grown significantly).
Paradoxically speaking lobbying is perfectly legal and over the years the European Institutions tried to make the system even more transparent through the Transparency Register. This is a system where individuals and organisations can sign up if they want to access to officials in the European Institutions. This was done in an effort to increase visibility in terms of who is Commissioners, who’s spending and how much, what interests are being pursued.
There is nothing wrong with investing in lobbying however the problems arise when groups use their money to influence the activities of the public institutions that should regulate their functioning.
Is this really legal?
FREQUENT AND NOT SO TRANSPARENT MEETINGS
In order to lobby the European Commission, on car emissions’ limits and emissions’ test, cars industries managed to meet the top brass and so they were regular guests at the Commission. We can say that nothing is more effective in lobbying than personal contact.
The Corporate Europe Observatory – CEO – dating from September 2015 shows, cars industries and members of trade associations met a Commissioner or a cabinet member over twenty times in six months. Meetings have also happened during weekends, where there is less transparency and higher chances for lobbyists to get a result.
What lobby groups want to achieve through these meeting, besides influencing the European legislation, is to delay the introduction of the new legislation on car emissions’ tests. It is then not surprising that even 2 years after the Dieselgate scandal very little has changed.
Pascoe Sabido, researcher and campaigner at CEO, told us how It’s shocking how little has changed after dieselgate. Car manufacturers said that cars had really low emissions and they were allowed to drive in certain zones of London and Paris because they had low emissions cars. People thought that they had low emissions cars, but the manufacturers were cheating and the Commission, as well as Member States, knew but they didn’t do anything because they needed to protect car industries.
WHO IS REALLY LEGISLATING?
The process of weakening and delaying regulations takes many steps and happens more often then you think. In 2015 the implementation of Real Driving Emissions Tests, RDE tests began.This is when trade associations and car manufacturers sit together in the expert group and at this stage they try to prevent the Commission to make changes.If they are unsuccessful and the Commissioners make a new law about emissions test, then car manufacturers put all their effort either to delay the new regulation or to weaken legislation.
That is exactly what happened with RDE test; the Corporate Europe Observatory – CEO – in a report of March 2016 highlighted how car industry lobbyists were also very present in the Commission’s advisory groups. After that car manufacturers and trade associations were very well represented on the Working Group on Motor Vehicles at the ‘Comitology’ phase, guiding the Commissioner on the technical application of the legislation. They were even sitting between the scientists in the Joint Research Centre working out the ‘boundary conditions’ for the RDE tests.
What do the Commission say about this increasingly strong presence? It’s reported that the Commission has consistently defended the inclusion of car manufacturers in policy making due to a lack of internal expertise which industry can make up for. Is this enough?
CONFORMITY FACTOR: A BRUSSELS BASED STORY
What did car manufacturers actually achieved with all this lobbying? RDE test was proposed in different packages and the second one that passed through the Parliament was about the conformity factor, which determines how many times the emissions limits can be exceeded. According to what Ugo Taddei, Client Earth environmental lawyer tests on the road compared to the ones in the laboratory always have a margin of uncertainty, considering that they are made under unpredictable conditions. The EU Commission asked for a technical expertise in order to calculate the so-called conformity factor. Through this technical expertise, the EU Commission found out that the degree of error could be equal to 1.2, that means a 20% higher or lower of emissions. The problem is that the EU Commission proposal regarding the new tests needed the support of governments’ representatives committee to be approved and under the pressure of trade associations and car industries, they were able to introduce a much higher margin of error not justified by a technical advice, equal to 2.1 than means 110 % more than the emission limit. The conformity factor has now been reduced and from 2021 all cars will be indefinitely permitted to emit 50% more NOx than the emission limit, but still not in line with the limit calculated by the technical expertise.
Was this huge loophole really necessary?
A FUN FACT: THE GOOD AND THE BAD
We interviewed Julia Poliscanova Clean Vehicles Manager at Transport & Environment – T&E – who supports a more transparent system: “The system in Europe is shrouded in secrecy and cronyism”, she said. First of all she blamed the national governments, also the European Commission: “it’s also the issue in the European Commission, in particular, the previous commissioners working on industry such as Mr. Antonio Tajani who indeed gave preferential treatment to the car industry. They delayed the introduction of new rules such as new more demanding test procedure. They also did not want to look deeper into the matter even though when their own research showed there was evidence of cheating they decided to ignore it“.
Antonio Tajani president of European Parliament, was at the time heading the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, known as DG Enterprise. The Corporate Europe Observatory – CEO – obtained in 2016 leaked documents from Association des Constructeurs Européens d’Automobiles – ACEA -, the European car manufacturers’ lobby, revealing the illegal attempt of the DG Enterprise to delay enforcement of EU emissions standards for diesel cars in order to help industries save money, as it has been published from the same CEO in an article of November 2016. The leaked internal correspondence reveals a severe disconnect between the two departments. DG Enterprise on the one hand, which aimed to the development of tougher emissions tests and tried to delay their implementation and the Directorate-General for Environment – DG Environment – on the other hand, which pressed for the timely implementation of the new measures. DG Enterprise didn’t take into account the 2007 EU regulation that requires car manufacturers to cut toxic nitrogen oxide emissions and, totally ignoring it, claimed that a consequence of the economic crisis would not have been politically opportune to implement RDE measures for other two years. DG Environment on the other side didn’t agree on this justification and strongly objected to the strategy, emphasising the legal obligation of enforcing EU emissions standards, and warning that the proposed delay would violate EU pollution regulation.