A young Austrian politician and candidate for the EU parliament election recently stated that there were between „25.000 and 30.000 lobbyists“ working in Brussels“ spending around 1,15 billion Euros (yearly) in order to influence policies and laws. One would assume that numbers are easy to verify. We thought so as well. However, we got confronted with lots of complicated material: estimations. Get an insight into the making-of of our investigation.
We were lucky to quickly spot a fitting claim for our project. On the Viennese online platform vienna.at an article was published about a panel discussion on EU elections. It provided a summary from all the participants of the discussion. Bingo! Among them was a quote from Austrian Social Democratic politician Julia Herr. She addressed the neglection of climate problems within EU politics as a result of „25.000 to 30.000“ lobbyists working in Brussels.
Inquiries about inquiries
Our research with an e-mail to Julia Herr: Where did she get the numbers from? What was her primary sources? Two days later we still had no reply. Meanwhile, we searched other sources and ended up contacting these three institutions:
- Representative Office of the European Parliament in Austria
Additionally, we sent Julia Herr an inquiry via Twitter. Still no response from her, so we took up calling her official employer: the Social Democratic Youth party in Austria (SJÖ). The mystery of one-sided correspondence was revealed: Herr was supposedly ill. We got a phone number of her press speaker. He received our inquiry and answered quickly. According to him, the number of lobbyists originated from LobbyControl. He gave no statement about the 1,15 billion Euros.
Formulas, but no numbers
In the meantime, the press secretary of the Representative Office of the European Parliament in Austria send a link to an article about the transparency register. An infographic in the article shows three categories of lobbying organizations: those which spend less than 100.000 Euro for lobbyism annually, those with expenditures between 100.000 and one million (here the estimations could be hugely unprecise) and those who spend over one million Euro. All of this is vague.
We called LobbyFacts.eu. Again, we got a confirmation of the number of lobbyists but none for budget figures. To get to a rough estimation, one would have to manually edit a list of 1.259 organizations fitting the categories stated above. It’s quite clear: it seems the budget number mentioned by Miss Herr is uncheckable. But how did she get to it in the first place? We didn’t get an answer.