The report "Lobbying: the hidden epidemic", by Observatoire des multinationales and Amis de la Terre France, shows how, while public attention was focused on the Covid-19 epidemic and its human toll, corporations and their trade groups launched a major lobbying offensive, with a twofold objective.
Plastic bans, pesticides, tax regimes, climate targets: the private sector has taken advantage of the health crisis to recycle many of its old demands or re-fight some old battles with no connection to the virus and its impact. As always, their focus has been on avoiding, suspending, postponing or softening social and environmental regulations.
But big business did not stop there. They have sought to capture most of the public support mobilized by governments and to shape the content of recovery plans, while avoiding any truly binding conditions, whether in terms of climate goals, labour impacts or distribution dividends. As a result, Renault and Air France have benefited from public bailouts worth several billion euros, and a 20 billion euro fund set up to protect "strategic" corporations was used to help the oil services firm Vallourec, whose difficulties date back to well before the Covid crisis.
"Corporations have sought to create a ’green’ and generous public image, pretending to take the measure of the crisis, while extolling the merits of self-regulation. But behind the scenes, they have used the pandemic as an excuse to attack social and environmental norms, and to take lion’s share of the new manna of public aid, without any condition. In this sense, ’coronawashing’ is also a form of lobbying", said Juliette Renaud, Friends of the Earth France.
In the name of urgency, crucial decisions for the post-covid world are taken, often in just a few days, in a face-to-face meeting between government and the industry. The crisis clearly shows that the transparency and supervision mechanisms for lobbying and conflicts of interest in France are inadequate. The voices of trade unions, civil society and even parliamentarians are more marginalized than ever.
"With the economic crisis, government decisions and public spending will remain central for big business," says Olivier Petitjean of Observatoire des multinationales. "They will continue to capitalize on their privileged access to decision-makers. It is essential to strengthen transparency and democratic debate and protect the integrity of public decision-making against corporate capture, so that they are not left alone to draw the contours of the post-Covid world."
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