The “Parliament” series illustrates the weight of lobbies in Brussels

TV SERIES – This 9 May is synonymous with Europe Day… and above all the return of Parliament. The comedy about the European institutions returns this Monday with a season 2 available on france.tv. At the same time, at 9 p.m., France 5 will broadcast the first season of the series that by April 2020 had attracted more than 2 million curious people on the FranceTV Slash platform.

In this case, Le HuffPost proposed to Adrien Le Louarn, parliamentary assistant in Brussels, to decipher, in a video featured at the top of this article, the series that honors this crucial role of shadow workers. In this Franco-German co-production, Samy (Xavier Lacaille) plays a young parliamentary assistant to MP Michel Specklin (Philippe Duquesne) who seems just as lost in parliament as his new assistant.

Together they will try to defend an amendment that finning, cutting shark fins. But they will face power plays and pressure from lobbies defending private interests.

Negotiations in Parliament’s “Mickey Mouse Bar”

The series is already a reminder of how much lobbyists and parliamentarians put up every day since the pressure groups have access to the building if they are registered in the transparency register, a very real public list that lists the different pressure groups in Brussels. On May 9, 2022, there are just over 12,000.

If encounters never happen by chance, as is the case in the series with Samy, they take place in the cafeteria of Parliament, an important place in the institution that bears a name that is nevertheless highly unlikely.

“There is a complete discrepancy as the main cafeteria of the European Parliament is called the ‘Mickey Mouse Bar’,” jokes Adrien Le Louarn, who works for MP Manon Aubry, co-chair of the left-wing group in the European Parliament. “Behind this childish and friendly name, this place allows the tobacco industry to convey its ideas, because in these multicolored armchairs, lobbyists will discuss very important topics with MPs.”

Lobby’s “Ready-made Amendments”

In parliamentGuido Bonafide (Nicollo Senni), the lobbyist who defends the interests of fishermen, goes so far as to write amendments instead of the deputies and submit them directly to Samy, the parliamentary assistant. Deja vu in Brussels again here.

“This scene shows how determined lobbyists are to defend their interests by writing ready-made amendments to a package of delegates when necessary,” explains Adrien Le Louarn, who tempers by specifying that these lobbies cannot act alone. “If these amendments are finally tabled and passed, it will be thanks to the complicity of certain deputies who agree to defend them. Without this relay in the hemisphere, the power of the lobbies is nil.”

This weight of lobbies on votes in parliament made headlines again on May 3 with the controversy surrounding the trawling ban. LREM MEP Pierre Karleskind, chairman of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, has made every effort to maintain this frowned upon practice by introducing an amendment aimed at banning destructive fishing techniques only in areas with strict protection… This is already the case in France. An amendment deemed “hypocritical” by the NGO Bloom, as it was typically “that of the Breton industrial trawler fishing lobby”.

The Plague of Revolving Doors

To influence policy at European level, lobbies can count on an important lever: revolving doors. An expression to describe former parliamentary assistants, deputies or European commissioners who eventually go to the other side of the barrier and become a lobbyist. This is the case of Rose (Lize Kingsman) in parliamentwho defends the interests of banks following his resignation as parliamentary assistant to a pro-Brexit UK MP.

For Adrien Le Louarn, this phenomenon is one of the greatest plagues of Parliament today. “These people come from the audience with an address book and experience with how the bureaucratic machine works. They will be able to put all these acquired skills at the service of private interests, such as the tobacco lobby or multinationals.”

For example, Connie Hedegaard, former European Commissioner for Climate Action, was recruited by Volkswagen, or José Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission, joined Goldman Sachs bank. The problem is that the European Ombudsman launched an inquiry into this “revolving door” in Brussels in May 2021. At present the rules are not very restrictive and the institutions rely heavily on trusting their commissioners not to work for these pressure groups .

Talking to lobbies, a real strategy

Adrien Le Louarn admits he doesn’t frequent many lobbies. Already for a very simple reason: “I work for a radical left group (…) The lobbies are professionals, if they need to convey their ideas, they know to go to those who can best defend them. If you’re a fishing lobby, you’ll try to turn to liberal groups rather than the left or environmentalists.

Trying to “beat” MEPs also means running the risk of being discredited in public. Manon Aubry publicly lists on Twitter what she calls “dangerous contacts” with these lobbies. It also launched its “Prix des lobbies” in November 2021, a parody prize to denounce practices at the European Parliament level. A reward for lobbyists who had tried in vain to seduce the MP.

However, visiting lobbies can turn out to be very strategic. “Talking to lobbies that defend interests that are opposed to ours is interesting, because sometimes we can discover the arguments of the opponents and thus better prepare ourselves to refute them,” explains Adrien Le Louarn.

It is not only the multinationals that are hidden behind the lobby label. Many NGOs championing women’s rights or the environment are also registered in the Transparency Register. This is especially the case for Greenpeace or WWF. “We make the difference between those who lobby and advocate: those who stand up for private interests and the public interest,” concludes the parliamentary assistant, convinced that we should not put all pressure groups in the same basket.

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