19 September 2006

Outing the lobbyists

The shady world of Brussels lobbyists gets a little light shed on it today by the blog England Expects, with CorpWatch on the case as well.

Their target was Burson-Marsteller, one of the leading professional lobbying groups in Brussels, part of an industry that itself is huge, employing a workforce of some 15,000 lobbyists who spend €60-95 million ($76 - $120 million) a year to buy access to the EU's regulators.

In particular, England Expects has caught out David Earnshaw, the MD of Burson Marsteller in Brussels, part-time lecturer at the College of Europe (where he is described as a "visiting professor"), former '99 New Labour MEP candidate and co-author of UKIP Watch.

Earnshaw, it seems, has been passing himself off as an “independent expert”, claiming the title "Dr" which he has not earned, being neither an MD nor a PhD, and then bidding for and winning a contact to write an independent study on the Regulation for advanced therapy medicinal products. This is despite his role as MD in a lobbying company which has clients in the pharmaceutical industry.

When Earnshaw's report was published on the committee's web page (now apparently removed), the title "Dr." preceded his name. That title was important as, according to the EU parliament's own rules, "Successful completion of a full university course obtaining a degree related to public health," is a standard selection criteria to qualify panel members as external experts.

Not is this the first time Earnshaw has played these games. In connection with Burson-Marsteller at the "Leaderless Europe" conference at the Centre for European studies at the Britain's Hull university, he was also described as “Dr Earnshaw” and the title also appears on the front page of a paper published by his former employer, SmithKline Beecham.

That the EU parliament now seems to have removed Mr Earnshaw's paper from its site seems to vindicate the "outing" by CorpWatch and England Expects – the two sites being not unconnected – and is another victory, albeit small, for the blogging community.

In tone and nature, however, their report is very similar to the story that The Observer ran on Sunday about the activities of Roland Rudd – he of Business for New Europe - about whom we wrote yesterday.

Not only has Tony Blair's eldest son Euan spent a fortnight at Rudd's company Finsbury on a work experience placement, several of Finsbury's corporate clients, including Roger Carr, chairman of gas giant Centrica, Philip Hampton, chairman of Sainsbury, and Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of Boots – together with representatives BNE - recently met Blair himself in Rudd's private home in London. There, he was lobbied by the group for free access of Bulgarians and Romanians to the UK labour market when these two countries join the EU.

A Downing Street spokeswoman confirmed to the Observer that Blair had attended the meeting which she said was in June. "He was invited to meet the advisory council of Business for New Europe, which he accepted," the spokeswoman said. "He met a group of eminent business people and the discussions were about reform of the EU."

Rudd is an interesting figure in that shady world of lobbyists. He is well known to politicians following his time as a political journalist on the Financial Times. Finsbury was bought by Sir Martin Sorrell's advertising giant WPP in 2001 for an estimated £50m, netting Rudd a fortune worth about £41m.

He helped canvass for Mandelson in the 2001 general election and the trade commissioner has appeared at the millionaire's luxury birthday bashes. He is known to have connections within Blairite circles. His company was drafted in by government to help with the Railtrack crisis in 2002.

Finsbury was also caught up in the political spat over tuition fees. It was hired by Universities UK (UUK), which represents vice-chancellors, to provide them with political intelligence from within the Labour machine as they struggled to sell top-up fees to members of the Labour party ahead of a crucial vote in the House of Commons.

Thus far, however, Rudd's lobbying activities on behalf of his friends in BNE seem to have failed, to judge from Reid’s hints today, which may not be unconnected with the Observer's outing.

It seems then that both the MSM and the bloggers have scored in an area which needs much, much more scrutiny, both in UK and EU politics – a more valuable contribution to the governance of our country than the torrent of lightweight pap emanating from much of the MSM and, one is ashamed to say, much of the British political blogosphere - becoming in the process more like the MSM that they profess to dislike.