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Interview w/ Hans from Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)

Do you know the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)?

At Mundo-b, CEO investigates and exposes cases of privileged access and influence of multinationals and their lobbyists on the design and implementation of European policies. We interviewed Hans van Scharen, Media officer at CEO, to better understand their work.

"CEO's work can be divided into two main aspects. On the one hand, researching and campaigning on lobbies of large, corporate groups, and exposing their influence on European policy making in many areas: climate and energy, banking and finance, agriculture and food, health and pharma, Big Tech...". On the other hand, CEO studies how do the European institutions work: is there sufficient transparency? Is there enough institutional protection to defend the general interests (of citizens and ecosystems)? To what extent do private corporate interests have privileged access to the different levels of European decision making?

Hans adds: "A question people often ask us, is: 'What is the effect of your work?. Well, there are several reasons to be optimistic because a lot of things have improved in the past few decades. Many issues are being publicly discussed and brought out into the open. But we shouldn't be naive either: have public policies changed? Not really, or not enough. We are clearly in a very interesting time for the future of the EU and the world. For example, with the announcement of the European Green Deal, we are doing a lot of work by us in coalition with several NGOs to find out whether this Deal will be really 'green', really sustainable, really fair, really future proof, or whether it's just another fashionable coat of paint on the current system." They've got their hands full.

Next year, CEO will be 25 years old. A nice birthday to celebrate, but Hans explains that the team is still discussing how to celebrate it. "Celebrating is perhaps not the most appropriate word when our work is to denounce lobbies, corporate ownership of politics, corruption... You could ask yourself if there is a lot to celebrate. On the other hand, it is important to celebrate the vibrant resistance of movements against a neoliberal EU. We are exploring different possibilities."

Internally, CEO has an organisation that totally corresponds with their values: the organisation is totally horizontal and there is no hierarchy, no leader. "That means that we are all collectively responsible for how CEO operates, which is great but also means extra work. Fortunately, a strong solidarity and a great humanity exists within our team to make sure people dont burn out; because some of us have been there for years and know that the issues and fights we deal with on a daily basis can be heavy."

These weeks they are looking for two new people to join their team: a communications officer and a digital engagement officer. The objective? To assure CEO's communication, outreach and also finances. "We obviously dont have funding from business groups nor from European institutions. Our situation is not precarious but not very comfortable either. That is why we want to increase donations from citizens. We want to ask for support from all citizens in Europe to support our work. We get as many NGOs financial support from charities and trusts on specific issues, and that is very important. But it is true that for example, if 10,000 citizens would donate €10 per month, it would give us even more freedom to operate and guarantee the longevity and sustainability of our research and campaigns."

Since a few years CEO has been investigating the powerful lobby of the pharmaceutical sector, and has increased this research the past year to uncover the influence of Big Pharma on the way the EU has responded to the Covid-crisis: "Given the impact of the pandemic, we have intensified our work on Big Pharma to highlight the often negative impact of this industry on European policy. The level of European hypocrisy in the debate on Covid-19 vaccines and the almost absolute power of pharmaceutical groups is incredible. The mobilisation around this debate is starting to have the same magnitude and importance as the one on TTIP a few years ago. We have to take into account all the levels of power of Big Pharma that drive European, American and multilateral policies. For example, it is not widely known that Pfizer the darling company of the European Commission -  is the main company that was the architect of the so called TRIPS treaty that protects intellectual property of companies. An exemption of TRIPS for Covid-19 health technologies is now being debated at the WTO in Geneva. The patents of Big Pharma are being loyally protected by Ursula von der Leyen and her European Commission. So patent protection is there to defend the vaccine profits for companies like Pfizer. We saw the same battle 25 years ago on HIV-medication."

And there is more! Hans goes on to explain: "For example, we have also identified evidence that for the past year, still on the subject of the Covid-crisis, the European Commission has been meeting almost exclusively with representatives of pharmaceutical lobbies or Big Pharma companies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and interlinked organisations such as US based Global Citizen. Yet a few months ago, the Commission refused to meet with Doctors Without Borders, which has strong expertise and credibility on global public health. In doing so the Commission created its own echo chamber, only hearing corporate interests."  

Finally, CEO together with Counter Balance -also in Mundo-b, launched the EU Watchdog Radio podcast in early 2020 when Hans arrived at CEO. For 30 to 45 minutes, he interviews different activists and researchers from CEO, Counter Balance and other NGOs involved in various issues. "We hope that people who do not have the time to read a full report do listen to an episode on that report and thus in little time can grasp the essence of it." Check out the latest episode on the topic of transport and climate change.


For more information, visit their website

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