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28.2.2019

M 01.05 The EU - A Political Monstrosity behind Closed Doors? - Opacity and Lobbyism within the EU

Prejudices against the EU?! (© Team Research with GrafStat)


The EU and its organs are often criticised. This criticism mostly concerns its democratic authority, its unclear decision making processes or the hardly controllable influence on EU policy, for example by business representatives. In this context, three key words that frequently turn up are democratic deficit, opacity and lobbyism.

The term democratic deficit is frequently used to express the fear the EU does not actually have a democratic government. The EU citizens directly elect the Members of Parliament. However, the EU’s powers are often said to be insufficient to give democratic legitimacy to the EU as a whole. National ministers or heads of government work in other important positions and organs. These politicians were elected in their respective states, but they were not elected by the entire EU population. As a result, there is no EU-wide electoral campaign. Some policy experts think that there cannot be such an EU-wide electoral campaign because the member states are too different with regard to their various languages and cultures. This is supposed to be the reason why a pan-European public cannot built up. Others think that quite the opposite is the case: There is no pan-European public because there is no EU-wide electoral campaign and there is hardly any European-oriented media.

Moreover, it sometimes is criticised that the EU lacks an opposition which offers visible alternatives for the current government. An opposition is usually a premise of any democracy. An additional task for an opposition is controlling the government.


People say that decision-making processes within the EU are non-transparent. One the one hand, this is due to the many EU treaties and laws which create a complex and rather abstruse web. This is why the EU is sometimes criticised for being too bureaucratic as a whole. Other policy experts point out that the EU is just as bureaucratic and confusing as other national governments. Responding to the allegations, the EU made many proceedings publicly available.*

On the other hand, many resolutions passed by the EU organs are often unknown to the public. Many EU citizens only learn about these resolutions when they have already entered into force. Sometimes it is criticised that there is no pan-European public that deals with this subject. EU politicians are regularly accused of taking advantage of the general complexity and EU citizens’ lack of knowledge by unnoticedly adopting unpopular regulations.

The term lobbyism defines a circumstance in which advocacy groups influence political decisions. Many large big companies as well as foundations and environmental organisations employ lobbyists. Usually, their task is to network with Members of Parliament, ministers or commissioners. Lobbyists use these relationships to influence regulations and laws on behalf of their employers. Many politicians have to take decisions on issues they lack the necessary expert knowledge. Lobbyists then offer good opportunities to get further information about certain facts and circumstances. Ideally, lobbyism helps the politicians to contemplate an issue respecting diverse points of interests of different stakeholders before making a decision. The problem is that nobody is fully in the picture about the many European and non-European advocacies in the European Quarter of Brussels. Besides, nobody can tell exactly who influenced a certain political decision and why. Additionally, one cannot completely rule out attempted bribery by the lobbyists since lobbyists and politicians often communicate in private.

To make things more clear and lucid, the EU developed a code of conduct for lobbyists, and a transparency register for advocacies to enrol in. This transparency register is accessible for all EU citizens. **

Further information:

*Calendar of meetings of the European Parliament, including links to live broadcasts: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/calendar.html

**Transparency Register of the EU: http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/homePage.do?locale=en#en

Lexicon entry about democratic deficit in Eur-Lex: ttps://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/glossary/democratic_deficit.html?locale=en

Lexicon entry about Lobbyism in easy English: https://www.hanisauland.de/en/en_lexicon/en_l/en_lobbyism.html


Assignments: Work on the text using the 5-step reading method:

1. Step: General Overview Firstly, you should get an overview about the text’s content. To do so, you need to scan the text by paying particular attention to the heading, and everything else that is highlighted in the text. Think about the questions the text might answer and write them down.

2. Step: Close Reading Read the text carefully. Write down unknown words and look them up in a dictionary. Mark text passages you do not understand with a question mark.

3. Step: Underline and Highlight Highlight (preferably with a highlighter, otherwise use coloured pencil and ruler) the text’s most important statements. Not every sentence is important, only underline the main points. Circle particularly important terms (key terms).

4. Step: Divide the Text into Passages and Summarise Every text consists of multiple passages. While reading the text closely, divide the text into units of meaning and find a heading for each passage. The headings should very briefly summarise the passages.

5. Step: Write down the Main Points Write down the text’s main points (which are also called theses) using your own words.
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