EU Insider in Brussels. A chat with a lobbyist, part 1.

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What is lobbying exactly? How do we define it? The Oxford dictionary describes lobbying as follows:

Mid 16th century (in the sense ‘monastic cloister’): from medieval Latin lobia, lobium ‘covered walk, portico’. The verb sense (originally US) derives from the practice of frequenting the lobby of a house of legislature to influence its members into supporting a cause.

What is lobbying according to my interviewee? It´s my first question sitting on a sunny terrace in the centre of Brussels.  She (or he, who knows?) lobbied for the financial world quite some time and is now busy with a project ‘ to let the financial world work for society again, and not the other way around’, as the interviewee calls it.

This is part 1 of a conversation about what lobbying is, moral guilt, transparancy and the culture of the Brussels based lobbying scene. Tomorrow we will publish part 2.

What is lobbying according to you?

I would describe it as the interaction with policy makers with the goal to influence them. You have three elements: policy makers, interaction and influence. About all of them you can say a whole bunch of stuff.

Sometimes lobbying is portrayed as something ‘bad’ or shadowy.

Well, what is the bad or shadowy part then? Often, if you continue the conversation, people tell you indeed they find it sometimes shadowy. It becomes like that if you are not transparent. Or, they tell you it’s all wrong and corrupt. I don’t know anybody in my profession who is either corrupt or ‘wrong.’

In the meantime:

The guy who’s walking there is working for the glass industry. He’s not bribing people. And he doesn’t go to restaurants or whorehouses to bribe policy makers or business people. Thats corruption, something totally different.

It also has to do with your own political position. You have to be aware that lobbying is something huge. It covers a lot of topics. You can go to a meeting, you can write a piece in the newspaper or you can write an online article. There are so many ways of influencing people. Both direct and indirect. If you are able to write a Letter to the Editor in the Financial Times, you know for sure MEP’s will read it. The letter probably has a bigger impact then to take them out for lunch. Both of them you do with the intention to influence him or her. The question is, what do you want to forbid? What is the alternative if this work is ’wrong’? You are not voicing your own opinion, but from somebody you are working for. Its your boss. I get payed by the one who asks me to influence somebody. Is that wrong? If you have problems with this kind of work, you should decline doing it.

I once had a situation with a former employer, a client from the tobacco industry, a sensitive subject. The question was if there was somebody willing to take on this job. If you felt it was not your cup of tea, you could decline. Normally it doesn’t work that easy, but this time they asked the question head on. The same counts for the weapon industry. If you think its something you don’t want to do, decline. If you are a vegetarian, you shouldn’t go out and lobby for the Society of Slaughterhouses. You have to define your own limits. Right now, I don’t feel like lobbying for the financial industry, so I decline to do that. If somebody else has no harsh feelings about it, he or she is free to take on the task.

In eveything you do, you should always do it transparant and in the right proportions. You have to make sure there are forces who control you and know who’s doing what. If that’s not the case then corruption and shadowy behaviour can indeed come in.

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