My old MP Paul Flynn is in Brussels at the moment with the Public Administration Select Committee from the House of Commons and in his typically thoughtful and visceral way he has a go at the ‘dark arts of lobbying’ in Brussels. Look at Brussels from the outside and the amount of lobbying activity here, and the undoubted influence of lobbyists is considerable and scary.

But let’s flip the issue around a moment. Look instead at the institutions that are being lobbied – the Commission and the European Parliament are the main recipients.

A MEP will have a couple of stressed assistants that act as researchers, diary managers, press officers, bag carriers etc., and the Secretariat of the EP is inadequate in order to provide any nuanced policy input. So what option is there but to take information from lobbyists? The good MEPs will analyse this from a critical standpoint, while the lazy or uninterested ones will swallow it whole. It’s not only businesses that will lobby – NGOs and national governments are at it as well. But unless the EP can enhance its capacity for individual thought then this will always happen.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the EP’s work is generally open – so it’s a sure target of lobbying efforts. It’s a lot harder to work out quite what’s going on in COREPER or Council Working Groups. There’s also undoubtedly an issue around the massaging of egos – MEPs are forever frustrated by the inability to be seen outside Brussels as important political players. But to the lobbyist they should be the object of some grudging respect, to the lobbyist the MEP is important, and I suspect that some MEPs like that. Last but not least the good lobbyists can intellectually run rings around plenty of MEPs; being able to be a good, honest and decent legislator in the face of a lobbying onslaught is no criterion for getting selected as a MEP.

Bear all that in mind and it’s no surprise that Paul Flynn couldn’t find people critical of the current arrangements. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, do you?

Look at the Commission and the issue is much the same. If you’re a desk officer in a DG charged with drafting a new piece of legislation where do you possibly start? You’ve got a brain full of useless rubbish learnt when you passed the concours, but that doesn’t give you a grasp of how the market for the manufacture of some type of widget actually really works. Half of the posts in your unit are probably empty, you’re frustrated in your small office with a lousy working environment, and all your colleagues are busy getting points for their promotions rather than thinking analytically about the issue at hand. So what do you do? You phone up the association for the manufacture of the widgets and they provide you some nice advice. They take you out of you nasty office and entertain you at a reception. It’s a natural human reaction that you start to listen to them.

So is all of this right? No. Is it understandable? Yes. It’s just a lot harder to solve than the introduction of a lobbyist register. It needs more staff resources, a better working environment in the commission, more independently-minded MEPs, and – sadly – there’s not a hope that happens any time soon.

22 Comments

  1. “For I have heard of a recent ECJ ruling that stated that a EU citizen should not be extradited to a country which does not respect human rights.”

    This is within the EU: and yes, to me, places within the EU which do not have habeas corpus setc do not protect human rights. The ECJ obviously disagrees.

  2. retorics… give me evidence and sources

    I didn’t say there wasn’t any bribery going on, I said “almost none”. I base this on first hand experience and various sources. The American system is way more corrupt than the European one, the newsreports support me in this. A man is innocent until proven otherwise, so, do you have any evidence that there is consideral bribing going in the EU?

    and then another dogmatic reaction to my post:

    ““The EU now uses the common law principle in most cases”

    Waldo, are you actually a cretin or just mimicking one? We now have the situation whereby it is possible to extradite a UK citizen, to a country which does not have haebeas corpus nor jury trial, for a crime that is not a crime in the UK and upon the basis of no evidence being presented nor court hearings being held.”

    That is not a reaction to the topic being discussed here: common law principle on the subject of regulation and furthermore, is not correct.

    Firstly, I clearly pointed out earlier with the example of the ‘cassis de dijon case’, that the system currently being used is not EU regulation based but is more an example in the direction of the common law principle. This example is to found in every textbook on the EU, perhaps you should try reading one.

    Secondly, your extradition story… Can I have a source please? For I have heard of a recent ECJ ruling that stated that a EU citizen should not be extradited to a country which does not respect human rights.

    I have the feeling you only react to those arguments you can react to, but neglect the other arguments that don’t fit in your story. Retorics is the key to your arguments. Education, arguments and facts is the key to mine… or so it seems.

  3. “The European institutions make a very good report on fairness and bribes from interest groups to officials are almost not heard of.”

    So you’re unaware of the basics of public choice economics then? Or as PJ O’Rourke puts it:

    “When politicians decide what can be bought and sold the first things to be bought and sold are politicians”

    “The EU now uses the common law principle in most cases”

    Waldo, are you actually a cretin or just mimicking one? We now have the situation whereby it is possible to extradite a UK citizen, to a country which does not have haebeas corpus nor jury trial, for a crime that is not a crime in the UK and upon the basis of no evidence being presented nor court hearings being held.

    No, that ain’t the Common Law. And anyone who wants to impose that upon a formerly free people can, well, there’s some good Anglo Saxon that starts with F and ends with off.

    I was born free in a free country and I intend to die that way.

  4. “One where I have to bribe the politicians first or one where I get dealt with by the judges afterwards?”

    please, let’s stick to facts and not clichés. The European institutions make a very good report on fairness and bribes from interest groups to officials are almost not heard of.

  5. Tim, the whole point you are making has absolutely got a big point.

    However, you just fail to recognise that such a system is currently in form in the EU, as I stated and proved some posts ago. The jam-regulation-mechanism is an exception. The member states felt the need for a political consensus for jam that was not determined by judges so that’s why it is now in place (same thing goes for GB). The EU now uses the common law principle in most cases (as I pointed out earlier), except in politically difficult issues (like the jam).

    Don’t point to a broken leg if that leg is already cured.

  6. “but do you really want more decisions on the detail of, say, what is defined as jam, being made by the ECJ and fewer by MEPs?”

    Yes please, because the system is more responsive. Let us assume that I decided to make apricot jam with essential oils of citrus. It is, under the current rules, not allowed.

    Under a common law system it is not specifically banned, thus it is legal to make it. If someone starts to complain about it after I’ve started making and selling it then yes, it does get to court. And we have a judge sitting there who considers, does oils of citrus constitute a crime against the essential jamminess of the product, or do apricots constitute such against the essential marmaladeness of it?

    Note that this only happens after I have started selling and found out whether it’s in fact worth pursuing the case. Also, note that it only happens if someone actually complains about it. And note also that it can be soprted out at a very low level of the judicial system, not the ECJ. It only gets there if people really complain about it.

    Compare that to the current system. In order to even test market my product I first need to mount a lobbying campaign in Brussels to get the law changed. Then I have to wait while that law change is adopted by 27 national legislatures. Only then can I even start test marketing.

    Which system is likely to lead to the EU being the most innovative economy on the planet, as the Lisbon Process insists we ought to be?

    One where I have to bribe the politicians first or one where I get dealt with by the judges afterwards?

  7. Jeremy Hargreaves

    Tim Worstall: er, under a common law system the detail exists, but is called ‘case law’, and is made by judges rather than the original legislators. Yes, detail is boring, and indeed sometimes excessive – but do you really want more decisions on the detail of, say, what is defined as jam, being made by the ECJ and fewer by MEPs?

  8. The cassis de Dijon case that I presented you as a now widely used system for EU standards, is based on a common law principle.

    Don’t be so hard-headed.

  9. “Then why the HECK did the member states agree on it?”

    Because the majority of the member states work under this Roman Law system (in commercial law at least) and see nothing wrong with the system of thousands of pages of legislation and regulation about the details of what one may or may not do.

    Eire and England and Wales (Scotland is a little different) are about the only places which use Common Law within the EU.

    Which, of course, is why we shouldn’t be in the EU at all: the entire structure of law is wildly innimical to our basic systems.

  10. The quotes you based your last two paragraphs on were either not mine or was corrected just after I posted my post… Please read carefully.

    For the EU regulation you are talking about (and that’s my last word):
    1. first and foremost: it are the countries that have those regulations in place, EU finding a consensus so regulations are accepted everywhere.

    2. Search for the Cassis de Dijon case and you will even find that your dream is already true in a way. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principe_du_cassis_de_Dijon (I do hope you know french, or there is also a dutch source? strange there is none in English :D) The EU is the best mechanism for a free market by harmonising standards or making them mutually respected. Regulation that is in place in one country has to be respected in another with exceptions of health or some other very restricted cases.

    for example: you got a brown egg from a brown duck and you want to sell it in the UK but regulation says that brown eggs are forbidden. Then the Cassis de Dijon case tells us: ah well, too bad UK, you can’t block my eggs, EU tells me I can 😀 unless ofcourse the UK calls in “healthreasons”. But then, that would get investigated by the courts. In the cassis de Dijon case that was rejected.

    This is the closest you can get to your dream. But actually: the finest thing for a Adam Smith market is total EU regulation and abandonment of member states regulation for it blocks the borders… Oh and don’t think UK is any different. If they weren’t such a hard ass with the marmalade jam thing, the EU regulation wouldn’t even be there…

    3. please give sources. I can’t investigate the duckstory without it… You say that there is no reason for the legislation and that the EU regulation came out of nowhere. Then why the HECK did the member states agree on it???????

    4. Let’s not bother Jon any longer 🙂 please feel free to send me an email.

  11. I know tha Austrian case: it’s why I framed mine as I did. Their answer is that it was just trivia about a word….they don’t answer the fact that youcannot, by their law, put both apricots and essential oils of citrus into either jam of marmalade. It is forbidden by law….which is a damn fool thing for a law to do, especially a criminal one.

    No, these are not EU regulations trying to over rise national ones. They are new ones, invented by the EU and imposed upon countries (like the UK) which never saw the need for such stupidities in the first place.

    No, of course I’m not disputing the right of a government to regulate a market….I’m a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute for the Lord’s sake….of course there are public goods, of course there are externalities, etc, etc, etc. I’m not arguing with the right to intervene I’m arguing with the method of intervention.

    80 pages on the regulations for the sale of duck eggs isn’t the way to do it. The Common Law system is the way to do it: if you say they’re duck eggs then they have to be duck eggs (“your description of goods must be accurate”) and if you say they’re for human consumption then they must be fit to be so (“fit for purpose and of merchantable quality”).

    That’s all you need, those few lines, and that appplies to every product. You simply don’t need nor want hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pages of blather.

    “The point is: the whole EU regulation is only for export, not domestic.”

    That is complete bollocks. EU regulation covers each and every transaction in the entire EU area. It covers the farmer selling honey to his next door neighbour just as much as it does a mutlti-national selling across the whole area.

    “In 99.9% of cases, even most bureaucrats turn a blind eye to minor infringements of absurd regulations like these.”

    So? You’re using this a defence of the system? Seriously? You mean that 10,000 legislators ponder, their hundreds of thousands of assistants, mistresses, bootlickers and bureaucrats (to the extent that the classes can be distinguished) labour to bring forward regulations upon the allowable composition of compotes and this is OK because everyone ignores them?

    You really want to use that as a *defence* of the system? Personally I would use it as a reason (another one, if such were needed) to shoot the lot of them and scrap the entire system.

    I want what we used to have in the UK. Not many laws but in general we all obeyed them, because there were no monstrous idiocies like this. When we get to the situation where the only way we can live in peace and without fear of the law is because “most bureaucrats turn a blind eye” then we’re not longer free and living uinder the rule of law, are we? For we never know when they’re going to stop turning a blind eye to minor infringements, do we?

  12. sorry, saw a little mistake, I meant in the last paragraph ‘the whole EU regulation on jam and marmelade” 🙂

  13. Tim Worstall, I think your problem lies more with the member states than it lies with the EU. It are the member states who pose restrictions on goods, which the EU tries to alleviate to reach a freer market. I think you are picking on the wrong adversary.

    But actually you comment on the basic premise of free market as I defined it for goods.

    ““For a single market every country has got to have the same standards or allow the standards of another country,”

    That’s an amazingly odd reading of what a market is. Indeed, it goes to the heart of my very basic complaint about the current system: that it does not understand what a market actually is.”

    To be honest I totally don’t understand your comment there. But if I understand it, I totally disagree with the vision expressed in this quote of yours:

    “The Roman Law system (which the EU largely follows) assumes that omniscient and benign bureaucrats decide what producers may produce and consumers consume. Everything must indeed be specified in advance and accord with strict rules about what may or may not be produced (thus, with the jam laws, we get essential oils of citrus may be used in marmalades but not in jams. Why for fuck’s sake?).”

    Firstly: you are disputing the right of an elected government to regulate the market in the good of for example health? So when a product of for example Ethiopia is known to -going a little wild here- cause aids, the customers should just know and find out?
    May I remind you of the market failures?

    • Public goods

    • Externalities

    • Transaction costs

    • Market power

    • Problems of information

    • Problems of expectations

    • Consideration of human needs and equity

    Secondly: here goes a correction on the wild west story of jam vs. regulation:

    “The EU is bad enough without having to invent slightly cock-and-bull stories like this.

    Here is the Commission’s press release concerning the marmalade tale.

    “Myth : An Austrian farmer who has sold jars of apricot marmalade made with his grandmother’s recipe has been threatened with jail because, under EU regulations, marmalade may only contain citrus fruits. (Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2003)

    Truth : A directive dating back to 1979 contains an obligation that the term ‘marmelade’ can only apply to products made from citrus fruits. The rest shall be called ‘jam’. On joining the EU in 1995, Austria chose to word its new regulations in the same way as its neighbours in Germany, where Konfitüre is the standard word for jams of all kinds, including marmalade. In southern parts of Germany and in Austria, the term Marmelade predominates instead.
    Both Denmark and Greece have arrangements to deal with the fact that, in their languages, the distinction does not exist between marmelade and jam.
    It seems that, in the Austrian case, over-zealous enforcement officials have fined a businessman for using an incorrect term. This is unnecessary anyway, because the product is primarily destined for domestic consumption.
    Most importantly, this problem relates purely to the way in which the Austrian government transposed EU law into national regulations, and has nothing to do with ‘meddling Brussels bureaucrats’.”

    The Commission’s reply is a bit convoluted, but the point is that if the Austrian legislator wishes to expand EC rules governing products intended for export to products intended for domestic consumption, that’s their business and has nothing to do with EC law as such. The culprit fell foul of Austrian domestic law, not of EU law.

    In 99.9% of cases, even most bureaucrats turn a blind eye to minor infringements of absurd regulations like these. The problem is one of bureaucracy in general, not EU law as such.”
    http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/004852.html

    The point is: the whole EU regulation is only for export, not domestic. Two points I want to make with this: 1. This could be interpreted as a case of transaction cost and information cost. 2. Who are the ones interpreting it? The member states. You are picking on the wrong adversary and should actually find an ally in the EU… Just my thoughts on this 🙂

  14. “For a single market every country has got to have the same standards or allow the standards of another country,”

    That’s an amazingly odd reading of what a market is. Indeed, it goes to the heart of my very basic complaint about the current system: that it does not understand what a market actually is.

    The Roman Law system (which the EU largely follows) assumes that omniscient and benign bureaucrats decide what producers may produce and consumers consume. Everything must indeed be specified in advance and accord with strict rules about what may or may not be produced (thus, with the jam laws, we get essential oils of citrus may be used in marmalades but not in jams. Why for fuck’s sake?).

    The Common Law system (yes, I know honoured more in the breach nowadays) simply sets very general rules: fit for purpose, of merchantable quality, and then lets producers and consumers make their own decisions about what to produce and consume.

    The latter is the freer market….and as a one who consitently argues for freer markets is the system I would prefer to have.

    I’m not arguing with the idea that standards need to be mutually accepted: that is indeed essential for a market. I’m arguing that the basic method of setting these standards is wrong.

    Let’s construct a ridiculous example just because we can.

    Under the jam regulations you may only use those essential oils of citrus if making marmalade. One may also only make marmalade out of citrus fruits. Now, maybe I’m a jam maker experimenting with new recipes. Say the ludicrous idea occurs to me that if I used apricots and essential oils of citrus I’d have something interesting to sell. Who the hell knows? Maybe it would be delicious, maybe disgusting….but that’s something which should rightly be decided by consumers: and of course consumer tastes do indeed vary wildly so we might find that some small number like it while many others do not.

    However, in order to launch this product I now have to go to Brussels and negotiate an opt out from the jam regulations. I can’t call if apricot marmalade as that is illegal, I’m using non-citrus fruit. I can’t call it jam (or jelly) because I’m using essential oils of citrus. That opt out then has to be passed into law by the national legislatures of 27 nations, plus all the devlolved ones (yes, Wales, Scotland, Caatalunia, Aalund and all the rest) before I’m even allowed to market the damn stuff to find out whether there is indeed a demand for it.

    And this is the system used to push the Lisbon Process, that one that’s going to make Europe the most innovative place on the planet.

    We’re wrapping the entire continent in a blanket of crazed bureaucracy: why in fuck should we have a law at all (and it’s a criminal one too) which says you cannot add either apricots to marmalade of essential oils of citrus to jam? Seriously, who came up with such a mind-bogglingly stupid idea?

    That’s the problem…..and it applies to each and every product made and sold.

  15. @Anon: I suppose it’s the joy of blogging that you can raise complicated questions even when you don’t personally have all of the answers. I think transparency of where cash comes from is an absolute must, and greater capacity for research within the institutions (= greater staff resources, especially for the EP) would be the best starting points. But that’s far from adequate I fear.

  16. two points: reaction to the article and a response to the jamregulation.

    jamregulation: as it happens I am quite informed about that. Creating a single market ain’t that simple as you put it. For a single market every country has got to have the same standards or allow the standards of another country, otherwise products of the other country get blocked. There was indeed a big dispute over jam for UK jam got blocked in several western EU countries for health reasons. Now, how to solve this?

    I don’t remember anymore the solution that eventually got through but at least people who read this now know the background of the story. I do can say however we more and more get off the story of regulating and that it is more and more harmonising instead of EU regulations

    Article:
    Very nice article, well written and with a good point. It is good on the one hand that interest groups have the possibility of input at EU level, so you don’t get non-sense legislation. One can ofcourse ask the question: is it so bad that business interests dominate in the EU as the EU is still in the core an economic union for the economic interests of European society. Having a good business climate is an important aspect of a healthy economic climate… just a thought. On the other hand one gets the danger of a democratic deficit.

    How to solve this?
    The EU is the cheapest institution in relation to the policy field it covers compared with any EU member state bureaucracy. if you want a bureaucracy that not understaffed, then you need more money. But that is even worse for the UK ofcourse…

    Difficult choices…
    You tell me the answer. You have put forward the problem, but can you give a clear answer on the problem?

  17. Would greater resources for MEPs really solve this problem? US Senators and Congressmen (and women) are considerably better resourced than we are here, yet lobbyists still have huge influence there.

  18. “And I’m not seeing anyone putting themselves forward for election on a promise of not making any more legislation,”

    That’s pretty much what my platform for the next euro-elections will indeed be….

  19. Aah, takes me back to the late 1990s when I wrote a dissertation on all this.
    Essentially the people who know about things are going to lobby for their viewpoint to be the heart of legislation. Some of them even lobby FOR legislation!

    No one should be under any illusions – lobbying does happen in the UK too and is enshrined in good government (better regulation and the consultation process).
    Without it, policy makers get accused of living in ivory towers and not understanding how the real world works.
    With it, they get accused of bowing to the whim of big money when they should rise above these things and… oh. All gets a bit circular, doesn’t it?

    So there’s always too much legislation from Brussels – Tim cites jam (which sounds more like a piece of secondary legislation originating through comitology to me rather than a Directive, but I’m prepared to believe it). There’s also too much legislation from Westminster as you say Jon encroaching into ever new areas… and terrorism legislation being used to spy on whether you are overfilling your dustbin from local councils… well that’s obviously reasonable and rational and not at all abusive or intrusive?

    It might be nice to return to the world of the 1960s in some ways… but I for one would fight any move to pay women less for equal work or force them to resign their jobs on marriage, and some of the other pesky pieces of legislation such as the minimum wage that have been brought in affecting businesses since then.

    The world is a very different place now and while there are some negatives I think there are more positives. But we’re all entitled to have our own views.

    And I’m not seeing anyone putting themselves forward for election on a promise of not making any more legislation, only more or different legislation (which is the reality of cutting red tape)…

  20. Well, that was the system in the UK circa 1964…..

  21. Sorry Tim, but your idea has even less chance of happening than mine. Plus there can be no hope whatsoever that the UK would be any less legislation-happy than Brussels is – look at the number of crackdowns on this, that and the other that the UK government does.

  22. “If you’re a desk officer in a DG charged with drafting a new piece of legislation where do you possibly start? You’ve got a brain full of useless rubbish learnt when you passed the concours, but that doesn’t give you a grasp of how the market for the manufacture of some type of widget actually really works.”

    There’s a much, much simpler answer. Don’t have regulations that affect the market for the manufacture of widgets. Have a two clause piece of legislation: all good shall be fit for purpose and all goods shall be of merchantable quality.

    That way we’ll avoid idiocies like it is legal to add apple geranium leaves to quince jam but illegal to add them to plum or gooseberry.

    The problem isn’t in staffing, knowledge or anything else other than the insane Roman Law system that there must be detailed regulations for everything.

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