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Oil industry lobbied senior EU officials 568 times

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Top-level officials from the European Commission have held 568 meetings with big oil lobbyists since 2015, according to a new study.

Oil and gas majors including Shell, BP and Total, have spent a total of £140 million (€170m) on EU lobbying since 2015. That was the year the Paris Agreement was signed to limit global temperature rises to no more than 1.5 centigrade. 

The study by campaigners also found that there were 71 examples of “revolving doors” across Europe since 2015. These are senior officials from national governments, international institutions and the European Commission moving to and from fossil fuel companies.

Environmental groups said the findings showed that the fossil fuel industry spreads its influence “like an oil spill”. They argued that the industry “infiltrates” politics and imperils the chances of governments taking far-reaching action at the COP26 climate summit. 

The European Union (EU) has pledged that each of its 27 member states will reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The bloc has also set an interim plan for countries to cut emissions by 55 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030. 

The new study was conducted by three campaign groups: Friends of the Earth Europe, Corporate Europe Observatory and Food and Water Action Europe. It looked at the six year period between COP21 in Paris and the upcoming COP26, due to be held in Glasgow in November.

On average, lobbyists representing Shell, Total, BP, Equinor, Eni, Galp and five industry trade associations met with EU officials every five days over the last seven years. The information was all compiled from publicly available documents.

Examples of revolving doors cases between politics and fossil fuel companies include former MEPs, ambassadors, and an ex-adviser to the French President. A number of UK officials also made the list, the majority of which predates Brexit. 

In February 2021 The Ferret reported that Shell and trade body Oil and Gas UK had lobbied the Scottish Government on the importance of “balanced messaging” ahead of COP26. We revealed in September 2021 that Scottish Government ministers had consulted oil and gas companies on “choreography” around the summit. 

Belen Balanya, a researcher and campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory said that the findings showed how the fossil fuel industry “systematically spreads its influence like an oil spill”. 

“The sheer number of revolving door cases, in which high-level government officials take jobs in the fossil fuel industry and vice versa, indicate a disregard for conflicts of interest and reveal how the fossil fuel industry is in a position to undermine an effective EU and international climate policy,” she said.

“Their business model is under threat from policies to limit global warming to 1.5°C, so they are using tactics to try to reject or dilute legislation that hits their profit margin. With COP26 around the corner, the problem of oil and gas companies’ influence in political life couldn’t be more significant.”

Myriam Douo, corporate capture campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “The fossil fuel industry’s tactics imperils far-reaching climate action by slowing the progress down, promoting false solutions and thus clogging up the path to a greener future. 

“This new research makes clear that in order to tackle the climate emergency, and ensure that climate policy is conducted entirely in the public interest, we must separate fossil fuel interests from policy-makers, similar to existing legal restrictions on the tobacco industry.”

The Ferret has asked the trade body, Oil and Gas Europe, to comment. In response to similar findings in 2019, the oil and gas sector said that it would take “all of us — business, governments and consumers — to make meaningful progress” on the climate crisis.

Cover image thanks to iStock/artJazz. The Ferret has received funding from Uplift to investigate the oil industry, but retains complete editorial control.

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