This analysis was originally shared on Friends of the Earth Europe's website. Friends of the Earth Europe is a member of the Fossil Free Politics campaign.
In a period of 2,5 years, between December 2019 and May 2022, the von der Leyen’s commission engaged in a staggering number of 500 meetings with representatives and lobbyists of oil, gas and coal companies. That’s close to having 1 meeting every working day.
“Democracy is more than voting in elections every 5 years. It is about having your voice heard and being able to participate in the way society is built.” – These words said by President Von Der Leyen in September 2019 might sound as if they were meant for European citizens and their needs, but after analysing the Commission’s list of meetings since they took office in December 2019, it’s more than clear that these words were meant for an entirely different audience: fossil fuel companies and their interest representatives.
Even though von der Leyen’s commission has supposedly prioritised fighting climate change in their policy making, they’ve put the culprit in the driving seat. The fossil fuel industry is the biggest contributor to climate change and should be barred from interfering with the development of EU climate and energy policies.
Lobbying is engrained in the culture of Brussels decision making and asking for ‘expertise’ to industry is an everyday occurrence in the European Commission. Companies’ main purpose is to generate profits for their leadership and shareholders. And therefore, they will naturally oppose measures that might get in the way of those profits. Lobby meetings are a huge factor in corporate capture, whereby a policy issue, agenda or new legislation is influenced in the extreme, often from the beginning and on an ongoing basis, by corporate interests, and should be used sparingly by decision makers.
How effective the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying practices are in the EU is exemplified by the sudden uptake of hydrogen, a type of energy that was hardly thought of and barely part of the energy mix a couple of years ago, but is now heralded as the energy source of the future. With the promise of green hydrogen (produced from renewable energy), billions of euros are invested in infrastructure for an energy source that’s mainly produced from gas or other fossil fuels – playing directly into the hands of the oil and gas majors.
Another shining example of the Commission’s dependency on the fossil fuel industry came right after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Who did President von der Leyen turn to for advice when the EU sought to reduce its dependency on Russian oil and gas? Exactly, the big European oil and gas companies! The same companies that created the EU’s dependency on Russian fossil fuels in the first place by pumping gas and oil in Russia, working with Russian partners, such as Gazprom and Rosneft, and building new pipelines from Russia to the EU, such as Nordstream2.
The same companies that are raking in the profits whilst feeding Putin’s war machine, are asked to advise von der Leyen on how to break the EU’s dependency on Russian oil and gas. So, is it any wonder that the REPowerEU agenda – the EU’s plan to get off of Russian gas – lists hydrogen, gas and LNG from other parts of the world, benefitting equally repressive regimes, as solutions?
A stronger example of the hold that fossil fuel companies have over EU policy making is hard to imagine. Meetings with policymakers are just one of the many tools that the fossil fuel industry uses to hold on to its power. It puts them in the position to whisper their greenwashed messaging into decisionmakers’ ears and influence policies designed to steer us away from fossil fuels.
It’s a powerful tool that they’re using nearly every working day.