Are you a good lobbyist?

Are you a good lobbyist”? This was the central question to a simulation played at the Summer University of AEGEE-Delft, “Create your own world”. More than 20 participants and some of the organisers took part in this interactive workshop on European Union sustainability policy, getting a hands-on grip on the mechanisms of lobbying at the European level.

In order to facilitate the discussion, the workshop at Delft’s amazing modern university library was kicked off with a brief introduction to sustainability and the European policy-making process. With the adoption of the Lisbon treaty sustainable development became a fundamental objective of the European Union. This is partly operationalised in the Europe 2020 Strategy, though unfortunately limited to energy and resource efficiency.

Nonetheless, a number of sustainability topics outside this restricted scope remain hot items in European politics. One of them is of course climate change, which is being recognised as a strategic priority of the EU. The international deal is to stay within a 2°C temperature rise since pre-industrial times (say 1750), but this will of course require significant cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions: from 20% by 2020 to up to 95% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

The EU has designed a cap-and-trade system to help achieving these goals, but due to the economic crisis and flaws inherent to the auction basis of this Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), the carbon price is currently far too low to stimulate any investment into cleaner production. Still, European climate ambitions remain ahead of most other developed countries, making the EU a front-runner in international negotiations.

Another topic currently under discussion is the protection of biodiversity, which in recent years has reached alarming levels of destruction. With extinction threatening 1 in 4 mammals, 1 in 3 amphibians, and 1 in 8 birds in the near future, the EU’s initiative to translate the Nagoya Protocol into European law is more than welcome. This international protocol aims to preserve biodiversity by sharing some of the profits generated by its uses (e.g. in medicines or foodstuffs) with the inhabitants of the regions it originates from.

With such powerful players as the pharmaceutical or agricultural industry, and such huge amounts of money concerned, it comes as no surprise that the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) working on the new rules are constantly being approached by lobby groups, both from industry and civil society. What are their demands? How do MEPs deal with them? And who is the best lobbyist, using the best arguments to protect his/her interests?

Based on personal work experience at the European Parliament, a simulation of the lobbying activities was developed, with each of the participants receiving a specific role, ranging from French small-scale farmers over Peruvian indigenous populations to big industry representatives. Of course a couple of MEPs from various political parties were added to the mix as well, with the difficult task of judging the lobbying efforts and taking a final decision on the proposed European legislation.

After a cautious start, arguments started flying up and down the circle, with people adding new elements to the discussion to refute claims made by other lobby groups. The representative of the agricultural industry, for example, proposed the French small-scale farmers to switch to his more lucrative, genetically modified crops, but saw his argument countered by a particularly stubborn scientist from Germany pointing to the threats such crops can pose to local biodiversity.

At the end of the debate the lead rapporteur from the European Greens, acting as moderator, consulted with her colleagues and they then delivered their verdict: a percentage of commercial profits to be used for supporting small-scale farming, additional funding for research into the effects of GMOs on biodiversity, and a number of industry-supported and NGO-monitored projects to conserve biodiversity on site. A reasonable and balanced deal, applauded by all parties — though in reality things are not always that easy.

Written by Mathieu Soete, Policy Officer on Sustainability