I’ve experienced the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying tactics first-hand, and I’ve seen how they prevent serious action from being taken on climate, MEP Marie Toussaint writes.
Next week, the European Parliament will, for the first time, begin to seriously discuss the issue of fossil fuel lobbying — and how it has prevented the EU from passing laws that measure up to the scale of the climate and cost of living crises.
The proof of the fossil fuel industry’s overwhelming power is in every headline about the climate crisis: every wildfire, every flood, every warning that we are set to blow through the 1.5C mark in terms of global heating.
As a Member of the European Parliament, I’ve experienced the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying tactics first-hand, and I’ve seen how they prevent serious action from being taken on climate.
Neutral-sounding organisations, fossil fuel industry's trojan horses
Take fossil gas — the fuel that has found itself at the heart of the cost-of-living crisis, the climate crisis, and the invasion of Ukraine.
Where do MEPs find out about how this sector works? For many, it’s from the fossil fuel lobby.
Being elected to office is no guarantee of being an expert in energy policy, so MEPs and our advisors need to quickly get up to speed. We are often invited to briefings organised by neutral-sounding organisations like the European Energy Forum.
At one closed-doors event of theirs attended by European Parliament staff shortly after the 2019 EU elections — “Briefing for MEPs Advisers and Assistants — All you always wanted to know about gas” — lobbyists for the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, the French gas network operator, and the umbrella body for liquified gas briefed a new generation of climate policymakers on gas production and distribution.
It turns out the European Energy Forum counts BP, TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil among its members and is one of a number of blandly professional-looking organisations which lobby for the biggest polluters in Brussels.
Eurogas, FuelsEurope, Hydrogen Europe — all trojan horses for the likes of Shell.
Events — and organisations — like these are commonplace and help cement an impression of the fossil gas industry as a reliable, unbiased and helpful source of information about European energy policy amongst those who decide on climate policies.
So when before every vote — big or small — that could affect the future of fossil gas in Europe, we receive voting recommendations from these lobby organisations, and many MEPs follow what they say.
The industry wants Europe to remain hooked on their products
In some cases, the influence is subtle. My colleagues may be trying to do the right thing, but hard as it is to admit they are being subconsciously duped by the fossil fuel lobby’s greenwashing.
In others, it is much more obvious. When I asked one group of MEPs where they stood on an issue, they pointed at the industry position paper and said: “our position will be very similar.”
The impacts are nothing short of catastrophic. From the controversial decision to label investments in fossil gas as "green" to the continuing greenlighting of EU subsidies for fossil fuel projects, the gas industry’s attempts to ensure we don’t seriously start talking about phasing-out gas are working.
Their fingerprints are all over the latest European Parliament vote on the future of gas in Europe — a proposed reform of the EU’s gas market should have been a chance to plan for a managed phase-out, but instead leaves the door open to gas for years to come — including continuing to give a gas industry lobby organisation direct influence over European energy planning.
These are just some of the ways that the fossil fuel industry ensures that Europe remains hooked on fossil fuels — that you have to keep piping climate-wrecking fossil gas into your home and paying them huge bills for the privilege that targets to roll-out renewables are kept too low, that buildings are kept poorly-insulated.
Its lobbyists have one job: to get laws passed that keep the profits from fossil fuels rolling in.
They cannot be trusted to act in good faith, and we will not be able to tackle the climate crisis while they are still allowed to freely influence our politics.
We can do better to kick polluters out of politics
There are good precedents on what to do with lobbyists for industries and countries who will not act in the public interest.
Last year, the European Parliament banned Russian lobbyists after the invasion of Ukraine. There is a global agreement to restrict Big Tobacco lobbyists from influencing public health policy, which we implement in Europe and has freed up space to deliver policies that save lives.
On Monday, 27 February, I will join other MEPs in the European Parliament to host the People Over Polluters forum, where for the first time, parties from across the political spectrum will begin to discuss the problem of fossil fuel lobbying.
And it won’t end there — over 100,000 people from across Europe have called on us to kick polluters out of politics so we can start delivering real, ambitious climate laws which protect the most vulnerable.
It is our responsibility to do so.
Marie Toussaint (Greens/EFA) is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from France.
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