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Diana Wallis

The Brussels Business

Last Thursday evening I happened to be in Brussels which coincided with the first public screening of a film (a self-styled documentary thriller ) ‘The Brussels Business’ – which business according to the film is the shady world of corporate lobbying of the European institutions. Of course, given my previous responsibility for ‘transparency’ in the Parliament, I could not resist. I knew from the surrounding publicity and those involved with the film, that it was hardly likely to be a complimentary portrayal. However, I have always believed that criticism can help force progress. This is the basis on which I have always welcomed the work in this area of ALTER-EU, the Corporate Europe Observatory, who were heavily involved with the film.

As a piece of cinematography the film is to be recommended and the makers have done a good job in putting together something which is both watchable and compelling – perhaps a touch too long. However my criticism of the length is as nothing to the criticism I felt compelled to make on the night in terms of the lack of balance of the content. This especially given the designation as a “documentary”; yes it is a documentary, but coming from a very specific political viewpoint. To start a debate or to present a view is fine, but the central thesis of the film that the European institutions collectively are still nothing more than an out and out capitalist plot with no democratic legitimacy is as simplistic as it is anachronistic. The film more or less ignored the European Parliament, save to show the House voting. No MEP was interviewed in depth despite the filming having taken up the last four years. The excuse given for this astonishing omission was (and I quote) “MEPs were too busy”. Maybe you can imagine my response to this – no one ever knocked on my door with a request. Indeed during the same period I saw representatives from ALTER-EU on an almost regular basis and valued their input; very strange.

It made me remember my first election campaign to the European Parliament back in 1989 when I travelled around North Essex speaking about a Europe for People, not a Europe for bankers or business. I suppose it has a resonance of a sort now. However the reality is that the European institutions and the Parliament in particular, are now incredibly “people focused” and the crucial difference now is that the Parliament has the power to show this. The film covered the WTO Seattle demonstrations, but missed the point that the European Parliament, post-Lisbon, now has a powerful voice in relation to international conferences and agreements. This is the Parliament that voted against the Swift agreement with the US, that has pushed the pause button on the ACTA agreement and this list will grow.

With these new powers comes the need for greater transparency and both Parliament and Commission have made huge progress with a voluntary register for interest representatives – of all types. The voluntary register now has over 5000 registrants. The reason the register is not mandatory is because of the complex legal entity that is the EU; it is not because of some murky corporate plot. The plot, or rather where the focus of attention should be is the Council, on individual Member States and to shine a light on who lobbies ministers ( and their staff ) in their role as Council legislative members. This is the missing part of the puzzle in 2012. Ironically many Member States are now copying the Brussels register, but what they have to be encouraged to do is to have a joined up system between any national registers and Brussels. This so that all of us can follow who is influencing who in respect of the 80% of all legislation which the film stated that Brussels now deals with.

Full transparency of the European legislative process by really opening up national governmental processes as they relate to European law making would give the people of Europe a better chance to participate. The actual tools for participation: the European Citizens Initiative, a directly elected Parliament with huge legislative, budgetary and oversight power are there now. They need to be used – not ignored!

Diana Wallis


About Diana Wallis

A European from Yorkshire interested in people, politics, democracy, history and cultivating my garden!


2 thoughts on “The Brussels Business

  1. Dear Mrs Wallis,

    thank you very much for the blog post and for coming at the Premiere of our film last week! It was a pleasure having you with us and you comment “from within” added information which is not in the film.

    Let me however just comment an information you write which is not correct. You seem to make a confusion between CEO and ALTER-EU. The story behind CEO is really interesting and we focused on that in one part of our film. Note however that ALTER-EU has nothing to do with the production of this film, and that only 1 out of 8 board members of ALTER-EU is member of CEO. Moreover CEO has nothing to do with the writing/production/editing of the film, and that indeed we were in charge as independent filmmakers. I am stressing this because our co-producers (ARTE/ZDF, RTBF and ORF) worked a lot with us to avoid problem like this. I can tell you that this is a 100% independent film.

    On the “too busy” answer 😉 I apologize if I upset you! Unfortunately, we could not take the time to approach all 736 MEPs 😉 I hope you understand this and those we approached were either too busy (but is this a critique?) or they did not fit with our storyline. However, as I told you last Tuesday, we are now preparing a web programme mainly focusing on the EP and be sure that it will be a great tool for dialogue and debate between MEPs (interested in doing so) and citizens from all around Europe.

    More soon! 😉 For now the cinema will be at Vendome from 9th of May (Day of Europe), onwards.
    Good work to you and have a good evening.
    Matthieu Lietaert
    Co-director of The Brussels Business

    Posted by Matthieu Lietaert | April 25, 2012, 3:15 PM
    • Matthieu,
      Thanks for this. I think you have seen that your comments echo my second posting. It just goes to show how careful we all have to be when representing who we speak on behalf of. I am very glad to know that you will doing some serious work with the Parliament, the great number of MEPs who have citizen’s interests at heart deserve acknowledgement for their hard work – and yes for being too busy!
      I would be happy to debate these issues with you any time, to convince you of a different perspective of Europe as it can function now.
      Best wishes with the film.

      Posted by Diana Wallis | April 27, 2012, 9:31 AM

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