Lobbyists’ tactics under scrutiny
BRUSSELS – A group monitoring European Union lobbyists wants the European Commission to examine tactics used by some campaigners after key changes to draft rules on patenting inventions favored powerful multinational firms. The Corporate Europe Observatory said yesterday it will ask Administrative Affairs Commissioner Siim Kallas to see if any of the campaigners were overly manipulative. «For the companies there is so much at stake that they are using tactics on the edge, or go beyond, what is acceptable,» Olivier Hoedeman, a coordinator at the Observatory, told Reuters. He singled out the Campaign for Creativity for introducing new «third party» tactics into EU lobbying by allegedly acting on behalf of individuals but promoting the views of large firms and not revealing its funding. «They presented themselves as concerned artists who want these patents in place, but it’s clear the initiative comes from a public relations firm,» Hoedeman said. «We will write to Commissioner Kallas on this example.» Simon Gentry, who runs Campaign for Creativity, told Reuters the group is «overwhelmingly» funded by himself from his own business, and that it was «nonsense» to say the group was a front for large technology and software companies. Gentry has a public affairs company with clients from the financial services and pharmaceutical industry that have no direct interest in the bill. «That somehow we agree with industry somehow discounts our arguments, we find that bizarre. Our interests don’t necessarily coincide with Microsoft, Siemens or Ericsson. Our interests are quite distinct,» Gentry said. On Monday, the EU Parliament’s legal affairs committee voted to widen the scope of patenting software-related inventions. That triggered relief at large tech and software firms which said the narrower definition proposed by the bill’s sponsor would have left their inventions open to copycat versions from places like China. Gentry cautioned that decisions in committee can often be overturned in plenary, which votes on July 6. Lawmakers in Brussels have been bombarded with e-mails as part of heavy, expensive media campaigning as large technology and software houses sought to safeguard patenting. Opposing them were open-source or free software supporters. Smaller firms also said only multinationals could afford to defend patents in court, and that patents locked up markets. Commissioner Kallas’s spokeswoman said the patents directive puts at stake considerable industrial and economic interests, and heavy lobbying was natural, but this case was not being looked at specifically. «Commissioner Kallas believes that through better transparency on who is lobbying on whom and for what interest, a better overview of all interests can contribute to better public information, and ease the elaboration of better legislation,» the spokeswoman said. Kallas favors the lobbying industry coming forward itself with new rules on transparency, she added. Competitiveness card There are 5,000 to 20,000 campaigning groups in Brussels, and they are learning to present their views in a way that chimes with wider issues, industry insiders said. The industry has grown in parallel with the EU Parliament’s powers, raising concerns at times that lawmakers are too malleable. Hoedeman said campaigners like those involved in the patents bill have begun to play the «competitiveness card» by arguing their interests coincide with the wider economy. Turning round the EU’s sluggish economy is a key challenge at present. «This week’s votes on the auditors’ directive and software patents show that the message has been taken on board, and MEPs want to support these broad aims with concrete actions,» said Julia Staunig of GPlusEurope, which helps financial and other companies navigate the EU legislative maze. «The Parliament has the lowest barrier to entry of the EU institutions,» added Margot Lotz of Burson-Marsteller, a public affairs firm. But a May survey by Burson showed that member state governments were the most effective EU lobbyists of all, well ahead of industry groups.