It is a common prejudice that the EU Parliament lends its ear more to some people than to others. Changing European law is easier for corporate lobbyists than for small enterprises or consumers. The most problematic thing about this prejudice is that it's true.
How does lobbying in the EU Parliament work? It's easy-peasy: lobbyists persuade elected Members to vote according to their interests. Or, even better, they make proposals for changes of laws. Many votes would have turned out different without their influence, whether it's on who will bear the costs of the crisis, what information will be printed on food packaging or what environmental norms will have to be respected for shale gas drilling.
Journalists from the British newspaper The Sunday Times decided that the proof is in the pudding. They posed as lobbyists and offered bribes to Members of European Parliament in return for their agreement to table the lobbyists' amendments .
Three took the bait: The Austrian Ernst Strasser (EPP) was given a jail sentence (without serving it); the Slovenian Zoran Thaler (S&D) resigned; and the Romanian Adrian Severin (S&D) was expelled from his group.
In reaction the Parliament agreed on a code of conduct, which is amongst the strictest in the world. Now, what matters is its implementation - and to what extent citizens are willing to control the work of their MEPs.
But what about the lobbyists themselves? Around 20,000 of them work in Brussels. The European Commission and the European Parliament manage a register which lobbyists may sign up to, if they desire. Many major corporations like Adidas, Porsche or the mining giant Rio Tinto have refrained from doing this, so far. But in reality, Brussels' lobby sector is even more opaque, because many corporations hire law firms to lobby on their behalf.
The European Parliament voted on stricter rules for lobbyists in 2014, but unfortunately did not make signing the lobby register obligatory.
Does the EU listen to citizens at all? Of course it does - one possibility to make your voice heard is to file a petition to the European Parliament. Over the last few years the Parliament has discussed petitions ranging from environmental pollution in Spain and Italy to conflicts concerning Spanish land law. However, in most cases the EU member state concerned ignored the Parliament's resulting advice.
During the negotiations for the recent European Treaties the Greens pushed for a more powerful instrument: the European Citizens Initiative. The second admissible initiative already proved to be a great success. It demanded the liberalisation of water supply to be prohibited. Once it had become clear that the initiative would gather the necessary amount of signatures, the champions of liberalisation in Parliament and Commission caved into public pressure. Water liberalisation will be excluded from EU liberalisation, until further notice.