Report says corporate lobbying is a major force in the EU
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Report says corporate lobbying is a major force in the EU

Member States in the European Union are described as “captured states, allowing corporate interests to malignly influence their decisions” in a new report by the research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO).

The report exposes corporate lobbying in a wide array of sectors – one of them being the chemical sector. One specific case is the classification battle over titanium dioxide which has been going on since 2016.

Titanium dioxide is a “whitening chemical” found in everyday products such as sunscreen and paint, and the European Union has been assessing whether or not it should be classified and regulated as a carcinogen.

“The classification battle over titanium dioxide has been going on since 2016”

In 2016, France submitted a request to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to classify the chemical as a “carcinogen by inhalation”. The following public consultation was overflooded by responses. According to the report, almost all of the 500 responses were from industry opposing the classification of the chemical.

Eventually, ECHA’s risk assessment committee proposed to downgrade the original proposal by classifying the substance as a “suspected carcinogen” when inhaled, and sent their opinion to the EU Commission. After have been postponed for some time, the REACH Committee will vote on classification of titanium dioxide next week.

The key lobby group in this case is the Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers’ Association (TDMA) which, as the name suggests, is made up of titanium dioxide producers. Two of the group’s members are producers from Slovenia and the United Kingdom.

Coincidentally, TDMA has found allies in these countries’ governments.

“The United Kingdom together with Slovenia made clear their opposition to the classification”

In a recent Commission consultation with Member States on the issue, the United Kingdom together with Slovenia made clear their opposition to the classification of titanium dioxide in all its forms and instead proposed a weaker “hazard communication” label.

The corporate lobbying and the alternative proposal from the United Kingdom and Slovenia seem to be working as other Member States have now also raised concerns about the proposed classification. Most notably with Germany, the largest producer of titanium dioxide in Europe, now saying it is opposed to classification.

The report from Corporate Europe Observatory argues that there is a massive asymmetry of influence on Member States’ EU decision-making as civil society groups cannot match the privileged access or financial resources of the corporate sector. For example, officials from the permanent representation of one of the Member States held over 500 lobby meetings during a year’s time.

73% of these meetings had corporate interests, and only 13% were meetings with NGOs and trade unions. It should be noted, though, that only 4 out of 19 permanent representations provided some transparency regarding their meetings with lobbyists. The others remain non-transparent.

“The report makes it clear just how much influence industry lobby groups have”

“We are very concerned about the results of this study. It makes it clear just how much influence industry lobby groups have on decisions that should be based on science”, says Frida Hök, Senior Policy Advisor at ChemSec.

But industry’s lobby campaign goes far beyond just trying to influence a couple of Member States. TDMA has received help from both a well-known public affairs firm and the European Chemicals Industry Council (CEFIC) in their opposition of the classification.

The online news website Politico cites an EU official describing a “well-organised pressure” from industry, with lobbyists asking for meetings with authorities in every country.

“Hopefully, the report will trigger a discussion on corporate lobbying within EU institutions”

Similarly, the French newspaper Le Monde reports that when an official from the environmental ministry of one of the Member States agreed to a meeting with industry to discuss titanium dioxide, no less than 24 people arrived at their office.

On a positive note, the European Parliament adopted unprecedented rules on transparency last week, making it mandatory for members of the European Parliament to publish a list of their meetings with lobbyists online.

“Hopefully, the report together with the newly adopted transparency rules in the Parliament will trigger a discussion and lead to more transparency on corporate lobbying within EU institutions”, Frida Hök concludes.