Despite its position as the world's most powerful international legislator and the dominance which it exerts other national governments, the European Union is still seen as a niche topic by the media in most EU member states. Ask the man on the street about the activities of the Brussels bubble and you will also be met with a shrug and a "who cares", in the majority of cases.
But a fascinating new documentary The Brussels Business
is attempting to change the attitude of citizens by shining a light on the estimated 15,000 lobbyists in the Belgian city, and their relationships with the European Commission and the European Parliament. Certainly, MEPs have suffered a number of lobbying scandals – the last one occurring less than a year ago.
And according to the film, which PublicServiceEurope.com
was lucky enough to receive a preview screening of, the stage is set for further turmoil and a public backlash. The movie certainly packs a punch in terms of the minutiae of detail that is pored over. But although the film tries to create a narrative of conspiracy, with its arty direction and edgy use of cinematography and music, the talking heads – ranging from transparency campaigners Corporate Europe Observatory to public affairs group the European Services Forum and independent academic Dr Maria Green Cowles – never quite deliver the smoking gun.
Much is made of the European Roundtable of Industrialists' – a group of 40 European multinational chief executives - disproportionate influence on commission policy-making. But the ERT is not Europe's answer to the Bilderberg Group. Far from it, the collective has been quite open and honest about its list of demands for politicians and officials – and the ultimatum given when the commission seemed to be wavering about the creation of the single market. Murkier, though, is the lack of transparency at the commission. A subject explored more fully by our secret columnist Schadenfreude here
As he puts it: "Public authorities publish information about their activities, neutrally or tendentiously. They withhold information which they consider sensitive. Publication can become overloaded or diffuse, defeating its purpose. It becomes in management-speak TMI - too much information. There are reports that 'diplomats and officials' are concerned over demands for greater openness, dipping further into 'pre-documents'; including email traffic in the preparatory work, the results of pre-decision dialogue and minutes of commissioner meetings. These insiders do not want more transparency. The present set-up helps them to skate around what there is."
The film premieres at the Millenium Documentary Film Festival in Brussels this week and there will be further screenings for lobbyists and MEPs in May before it gets a wider release. My advice to those who feel that the EU is only of marginal relevance to their everyday lives, at best, is to go and see this documentary. You might just need to rethink those dismissive attitudes, especially as European economic governance and supranational policy-making gather momentum in order to cope with a globalised world where national governments can have little impact on their own.