All too easy for big companies to influence politicians and officials, experts say.
Researchers and politicians want to introduce a register for lobbyists, after DR has uncovered how employees from Novo Nordisk invite the mayor and top officials in Kalundborg Municipality to discreet, closed meetings.
These are meetings where Novo Nordisk writes the agenda and where no minutes are taken.
As a result, the public cannot find out anything about the meetings, which is unfortunate, says Wiebke Marie Junk, who is an associate professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen and a researcher in lobbying.
– Initially, Denmark is very late. We have seen many European countries that have introduced a lobby register. We have it at EU level, and in the USA there has been a lobby disclosure act since 1995, but in Denmark there has been no attention to lobbying for a long time, and this is important in relation to transparency and to ensure that everything is in order.
What is lobbying?
- Lobbying is a term for individuals, companies, interest organizations and others’ attempts to influence political and administrative decisions.
- The word lobbying refers to the lobbying of the British Parliament. Here, lobbyists could meet the members of parliament and speak well for their cause.
At Aarhus University, Anne Skorkjær Binderkrantz agrees. She is a professor of political science and a researcher in lobbying.
– Denmark is behind in relation to other European countries and also in relation to the EU, where there is quite a lot of registration. It depends both on who lobbies and who you meet in the EU system.
The lobby register creates transparency
Christoph Ellersgaard is an associate professor at CBS and researches power. He believes that a lobby register is a good idea, so that you get rid of secrecy when politicians and companies hold discreet meetings without minutes.
– If there is publicity about these things, so that it does not become politics in these closed rooms, then we reduce the chance that companies can just drum their way through.
And it is a good idea to introduce a public register, believes Benjamin Egerod, who is an assistant professor at CBS and researches corporate lobbying.
– I definitely believe that in Denmark we need some form of lobby register, the question then is how much information we should require to be in such a register.
In the EU, a so-called transparency register has been introduced, where more than 12,000 companies and organizations have registered. This must ensure that there is greater openness about who the EU parliamentarians are meeting with, for example.
The EU’s transparency register is a public database where interest groups register and publicly disclose who they are, who they represent, which EU politicians they want to influence, how they are financed and what resources they use for their lobbying work.
Lobbyists can quickly be confused with shady backers who try to influence politicians and officials, but at the EU it is also pointed out that lobbyists help to shed light on a case from many different angles.
This can be, for example, by consulting the industry and environmental organizations before allowing or banning chemicals.
Local politicians want transparency about secret meetings
In Kalundborg Municipality, where Novo Nordisk has planned investments worth DKK 60 billion in the coming years, several local city council politicians are concerned about what is really going on when Novo Nordisk invites Mayor Martin Damm and the municipality’s top officials to meetings at the company.
Therefore, local municipal council member Tina Beck-Nilsson from the Social Democrats wants more openness about the meetings.
– I actually think that is also democratically correct. We are elected by the citizens to take care of some decisions, and then we need to know who it is that has an influence on the decisions we make.
Novo Nordisk and the mayor do not see the problem
But Kalundborg Municipality’s mayor does not believe that there is anything wrong with him and officials holding meetings with Novo Nordisk.
– If you are well informed about what Novo Nordisk intends to do, then we can also make the right decisions. There won’t be much fun if we built an industrial road in a place where they didn’t want to use it.
Novo Nordisk writes to DR that the company always tries to work ethically when it makes requests or proposals for infrastructure or other framework conditions.