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Brussels: A magnet for lobbyists

Published on February 03, 2008

Brussels -- If you want to achieve anything in Brussels you need an office in the city. From the candle-makers' association to the union of potato-starch factories, to the association of the crinkled-cardboard industry, there's hardly a pressure group missing from the European Union capital.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 lobbyists are said to work here for economic and professional bodies. Last week, the German Association of Fire Brigades (DVF) too opened an office in Brussels.

Some people might find this strange. But decisions from Brussels have an enormous impact on the everyday working life of each individual fireman, says DVF spokesman Soenke Jacobs.

The EU decides which driving licence the uniform-clad heroes need, how long they’re allowed to work and what their protective clothing is supposed to look like.

However, it had taken a while for the fire brigade to realize this. "We only discovered Brussels in the past three or four years," Jacobs admits.

The German federal states meanwhile have been trying for years to influence EU Commission officials and legislators. Each state has its own diplomatic representation, except for the city-state of Hamburg and its northern neighbour Schleswig-Holstein, which share a building.

Others have expanded rapidly in recent years with the Bavarians even residing in their own palace.

EU institutions and lobbies are taking up 3.5 million square metres of space in Brussels, according to the Brussels-Europe Liaison-Office.

Bernd Dittmann is in charge of a representation with offices on seven levels. Having chaired the Federation of German Industries (BDI) for 10 years he is a veteran of the Brussels scene. Nevertheless, he is surprised every now and then.

"I’m sometimes amazed about all the pressure groups that exist," he says.

Dittmann thinks the number of lobbyists’ offices has grown steadily over the years.

"After Washington, Brussels is the worlds’ largest lobbyists’ city," says Erik Wesselius of the Corporate Europe Observatory. The Amsterdam-based Non-Governmental Organization observes the economic and political power of lobbyists.

The organization estimates that the lobbyists spend up to 1 billion euros (1.5 billion dollars) a year to influence decision- makers in Brussels. But even Wesselius doesn’t know how many representations there actually are in the city.

"We need a mandatory list that can make the influx of money more transparent," the lobby observer says.

The EU Commission is planning to set up a register this summer, even though signing up will be voluntary. But Wesselius thinks little of the idea.

"Many lobbyists have already indicated they will not register because they would have to reveal their clients and their income," he says

DPA with Expatica