Climate action: the latest target of Europe’s fossil fuel lobbyists

Picture the scene: a dinner for MEPs organised by leading fossil fuel firms to explain the lengths to which their industries have gone to combat climate emergency. On the guest list, the environment minister of Croatia, current holders of the EU’s rotating presidency, and Guido Bortoni, an adviser in the European commission’s energy directorate. Nobody at all from civil society or the NGO sector. In other words a perfect Brussels lobbying event.

Billed as “Oil and Gas and the Green Dealthis dinner took place on 17 February, just a fortnight before the unveiling of the EU’s first ever climate law. The meal was sponsored by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP), which represents 29 of Europe’s main fossil fuel operators, including Total, Shell, BP and ExxonMobil.

According to the EU transparency register the IOGP spent EUR350,160 in 2018 lobbying in Brussels, so it can afford to take a few MEPs out to dinner. The European Energy Forum (EEF) is the perfect organiser: it is headed by Jerzy Buzek, an MEP for the European People’s party (EPP), a former prime minister of Poland, a former president of the European parliament and currently chair of its industry research and energy committee. The forum boasts 82 associate members, firms that pay “at least” EUR7,000 a year in membership fees. Predictably they are all in the oil and gas sector.

The EEF politely turned down a media request to attend an earlier gathering on 26 November entitled “Gas: Driving the Energy Transition”. “We do not accept journalists at our events,” was the response. The event was sponsored by Eurogas, the gas industry’s main lobbying organisation, and two German firms, Uniper and Wintershall. An official from the European commissions DG Energy also attended.

The European Green Deal, the commission’s EUR1tn plan to prepare the European economy for confronting the climate crisis, has prompted a round of intensive lobbying activity. “Since 2010, the five main oil and gas corporations and their fossil fuel lobby groups have spent at least a quarter of a billion euros buying influence at the heart of European decision-making,” claims a report produced by a coalition of climate NGOs (Corporate Europe Observatory, Food & Water Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace).

Such firms, their business founded on extracting fossil fuels, have an interest in delaying or undermining policies designed to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. They make much use of Brussels-based thinktanks such as the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). A week before the newly sworn-in commission presented its climate policies, CEPS hosted on 4 December, a “by invitation-only” event on the Green Deal funded by Equinor and Fortum, the energy market leaders in Norway and Finland, respectively.

Firms are welcome to join CEPS as corporate members. ExxonMobil, for example, pays EUR15,000 a year for this access. The thinktank has organised members-only breakfast meetings with guests such as Frans Timmermans, now EU commissioner in charge of the Green Deal.

Members of commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s team have been the focus of relentless attention from energy industry and particularly gas lobbyists for months. In the last 10 days of January alone, Eurogas representatives met six commissioners and officials from departments for the environment, trade, budget, agriculture and economic affairs. Each time the declared business of the meeting was the Green Deal.

The energy commissioner, Kadri Simson, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Eurogas conference on 19 March in Brussels. Six members of the association’s staff are accredited for access to EU parliament buildings. Eurogas spent EUR800,000 on lobbying in 2018 alone. “DG Energy is very permeable to the gas lobby,” says Pascal Canfin, a Renew Europe MEP and chair of the parliament’s environment committee.

The IOGP has been busy too. On 17 December it met Ditte Juul Jorgensen, the head of DG Energy, then in January two other European commission members, in different directorates. The topic was of course the Green Deal.

Similarly employers’ group Business Europe has shown great interest in the commission’s new plans for the environment. Speakers at the federation’s annual gathering on 4 March – the day the EU’s new climate law is being unveiled – include Von der Leyen in person, two of her vice-presidents and three commissioners.

Another means of influencing European policymakers is to use lobbying firms. FTI Consulting is one of the most effective. Transparency International ranked it second for setting up meetings with the EU executive in 2018.

With 38 staff members accredited for access to the European parliament FTI billed Eurogas, then a new customer, between EUR25,000 and EUR50,000 in 2018. Earnings from ExxonMobil, its second largest account totalled EUR600,000 to EUR700,000. The same year it carried out confidential research for Gas Infrastructure Europe. Measures for a Sustainable Gas Storage Market, the resulting study, was subsequently posted and is still on the European commission’s website. The firm has made good use of the many revolving doors available in Brussels. In 2016-18, for instance, Philip Lowe, after heading DG Energy (2010-14), was a senior adviser to FTI on public affairs.

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Jean-Arnold Vinois is another example of the revolving doors in operation. He is an energy policy adviser at the Jacques Delors Institute, a well known thinktank, but also an honorary director for energy at the commission and a consultant at FleishmanHillard, another big lobbying outfit in Brussels. This firm counts the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) – earning it almost EUR1m in 2018 – the gas lobby Gas Naturally (EUR25,000 to EUR50,000) and Fuels Europe, another oil and gas federation, among its customers.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the gas industry’s latest hobby-horse, seen as a means of justifying its fossil fuel activities. The snag is that CCS technology is far from being ready for widespread use and even if research succeeds in perfecting the techniques, a drastic reduction in emissions will still be needed over the next 20 years. The gas industry nevertheless persists in promoting it as a solution. Eurogas is working hand-in-hand with the Global CCS Institute, the key lobby in this field. On 18 February, in partnership with the United Kingdom Mission to the EU, it held a conference on the topic in Brussels. It is particularly difficult to pin down the role of EU governments in advancing the interests of their firms. There is no equivalent to the EU transparency register to keep track of the national governments or their missions.

Industry is by no means alone in attempting to influence EU lawmakers on climate issues. Powerful environmental thinktanks and NGOs – such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Transport & Environment, the Climate Action Network or the European Climate Foundation (ECF) – are hard at work too. Their financial means are substantial but less than their opponents. In 2018 the ECF reported expenditure of between EUR500,000 and EUR600,000, while WWF spent EUR2.2m to EUR2.4m over the same period.

Aude Massiot writes for Liberation on environment issues. This article is part of a This is Europe collaboration with Liberation and Tageszeitung.

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