Transparency International's report, "Lobbying in Europe: Hidden Influence, Privileged Access", has uncovered the full scale of big business lobbying which is estimated to cost the pharmaceutical companies alone more than $90 million.
It says that, despite serious risk factors, "lobbying regulation in Europe is woefully inadequate, allowing undue influence to flourish".
Eurozone crisis countries Italy, Portugal and Spain are among the five worst-performing countries, where lobbying practices and close relations between the public and financial sectors are deemed risky. The report shows that efforts to reform the banking industry following the global crash have been thwarted and watered down, in large part due to intense lobbying by the financial sector in Europe.
"In the past five years, Europe's leaders have made difficult economic decisions that have had big consequences for citizens. Those citizens need to know that decision-makers were acting in the public interest, not the interest of a few select players," said Elena Panfilova, Vice-Chair of Transparency International.
Sectors such as pharmaceuticals, finance, telecommunications and energy dominate the lobbying landscape in Europe. Conservative estimates based on entries into the EU's Transparency Register from 2012 suggest an annual spend of $42 million (€40 million) to influence EU affairs by the pharmaceutical sector alone.
Transparency International believes that figure is most likely a gross underestimation due to imprecise, non-transparent and absent declarations. A more realistic figure of $96 million (€91 million) has been put forward by Health Action International.
Revolving Doors and Vested Interests in Europe
None of the European countries or EU institutions assessed adequately control the revolving door between public and private sectors, and members of parliament are mostly exempt from pre- and post-employment restrictions and 'cooling-off periods', despite being primary targets of lobbying activities. In Portugal, 54 per cent of all cabinet posts have been filled by bankers since the country became a democracy in 1974.
"Unfair and opaque lobbying practices are one of the key corruption risks currently facing Europe," said Panfilova.
"European countries and EU institutions must adopt robust lobbying regulations that cover the broad range of lobbyists who influence — directly or indirectly — any political decisions, policies or legislation. Otherwise, the lack of lobby control threatens to undermine democracy across the region."
The report found that lobbyists have regular meetings with officials in the most unusual places. In Italy, the lounge of the exclusive fidelity club of Alitalia (the Italian airline) at Linate airport in Milan, where there is the flight connection with Rome, is known to be a strategic location where lobbyists meet policy-makers on a regular basis.