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Act for Regulation and Transparency of Lobbying in Europe : Democracy is at stake!

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The recruitment of Sharon Bowles by the London Stock Exchange Group, known in August 2014, highlights the question of revolving doors’ phenomenon and the way used by companies to promote their interests. Indeed, she becomes a nonexecutive director of a major financial group and was formerly a member of the European Parliament (MEP) who chaired the economic affairs committee. Thus, this case reveals lobbying issues, already explained by various NGOs. But let’s be clear. What must be condemned is not lobbying by itself but the (muddy) way used by some companies to promote their own interests: Rockwool is an example amongst others.

The well-known Danish company, specialized in building insulation, is the world leader of mineral wool market with a turnover of 2.7 billion USD and 10,500 employees in 40 locations worldwide. That’s why the company feels self-confident enough to engage discussion with various authorities about the need to tackle climate change and energy poverty with proactive insulation policies. In the other way, it means self-assured enough to use a quite pushy and arrogant tone. Even worse, Rockwool is shameless to implement an aggressive lobbying strategy.

Thus, in the UK, in November 2013, Rockwool signed an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron in which it asked to reverse measures badly impacting insulation business. Indeed, fuel-poor households could gain access to the funding of energy efficiency improvements (wall insulation) but this scheme came to an end. Rockwool also sent letters to various MPs interested by fuel poverty and energy issues. In another case, in July 2014, Rockwool and others representatives of leading industries in the building energy efficiency sector in Europe sent a letter to European Commission President Barroso calling for further ambition on energy efficiency in buildings.

The main question is not about the right of a company to promote its interests but how. In each case, the tone used by Rockwool reflects its patronizing habit. Obviously, tackling climate change or helping fuel-poor households are major and honorable issues. But is it fair to use them in the only aim of promoting its business without thinking about consequences? Thus, Rockwool thinks about itself first (and about its profits) and the company has a double speech strategy. One for authorities and public saying “you should do this…”, “look at our CSR policy, look how we are the best in promoting comfort, ecology, happiness…”, “look at the UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights we signed…”. And one for its employees: “shut up and work!” And that is the true reality because when you watch this video about the Rockwool factory in India, where workers are treated like slaves, you realise the gap between speech and reality. Workers live in bounded camps without minimum comfort, having 10 square metres rooms for 5/6 men, no shower system and just 4 toilets for at least 200 workers. And according to doctors, there are even various diseases as malaria, dysentery or chikungunya.

The worst is that “Rockwool way” is now on the increase with the the appointment of Fiona Hall as Senior Policy Advisor. Starting 1st September 2014, the British citizen is a former member of the European Parliament for the British party Liberal Democrat, and has spent the last ten years in Brussels working in the European Parliament committee on Industry, Research & Energy. She did not contest the recent European elections. Fiona Hall became leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European parliament in 2009 and was a member of the parliament’s bureau. She had a lead role in important dossiers such as the 2030 framework for energy and climate change policies, the Energy Efficiency Directive, the recast of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the Renewable Energy Directive.

But what’s confusing is Fiona Hall declaration to the research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory. According to her, and contrasting with Rockwool press release, she is now a self-employed energy policy advisor, with Rockwool as major client: she’s a consultant, free to work with other actors. Even worse, she says her new job “is an alignment of interest rather than a conflict of interest”. And she argues lobbying for Rockwool is good because the powerful fossil fuel and nuclear industries do the same thing.

Besides, Corporate Europe Observatory reveals Fiona Hall remains a member of the European forum on renewable energy sources (EUFORES) which is a “European cross-party network of Members of Parliaments from the European Parliament as well as from the EU28 national and regional Parliaments. EUFORES core objective is the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency”. Companies and industry associations are also qualified to join EUFORES and to sponsor their activities and events. Here is the question: who works for whom?

Moreover, despite Rockwool’ speech about transparency and so on, we learn the Danish company is listed in the EU lobby transparency register, spending of €300,000 – €350,000 for lobbying in 2012 (the most recent year), on following issues: energy efficiency of buildings, construction products regulation, sustainability, and fire safety. Rockwool is also listed as a lobby client of major lobby firm cabinet DN (Brussels) in 2013.

Do we have to blame Rockwool for this? In one hand, the answer is ‘no’. Indeed, the Danish acts like others because there are no safeguards in the code of conduct for MEPs (approved in 2011) to prevent any possible risk that companies are ‘buying’ insider knowledge. The current revolving door rules for MEPs are weak, even non-existent. Moreover, there is no process to monitor or enforce this part of the code and ensure that former MEPs do not use their lifelong access pass for lobbying purposes.

On the other hand, the Rockwool case shows how tricky are companies. Indeed, Rockwool is used to introduce itself as a company with a strong Corporate Social Responsibility policy, respectful of human rights, social improvements… This is actually wrong. Look at workers in the Rockwool factory in India and ask you how they feel.

That kind of practices should be condemned, to improve transparency, worker’s rights and to promote a European lobby regulation. Companies can’t carry on their propaganda. Democracy is at stake.



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