Few people will have heard of AMISA2. And if you have, it’s probably only because you’re part of it.
The shadowy and little-known Brussels organisation doesn’t even have a website, yet it boasts the likes of Airbus, Google and Michelin as members. Most corporations paying annual fees don’t declare they take part in the monthly “breakfast debates” that AMISA2 organises.
For 20 years the organisation has led a quiet existence, offering its select group of 18 corporate members direct access to EU decision-makers.
Among them are oil giants ExxonMobil, BP, and Total according to a June 2016 members list provided to DeSmog UK by AMISA2 president Georg Brodach.
And up until last week AMISA2 did not publicly declare its membership either. But then on 2 June – following DeSmog UK‘s request for a list of members – AMISA2 updated its EU Transparency Register entry to include its membership for the first time.
Yet, when we contacted Exxon and BP to enquire about their membership and why they did not declare it on the register, BP did not respond. Not only is BP the UK‘s single biggest corporate lobbyist in Europe, but the oil giant has long had a cosy relationship with the UK government, from regular meetings to its arts sponsorships.
And after consulting with its Brussels team, an Exxon press officer replied via email stating: “Further to your questions – we don’t wish to comment. Thanks for giving us the opportunity.”
The existence of AMISA2 was first brought to light by transparency advocacy group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) who criticise the group and its participants for their “collective silence” on the decades’ worth of exclusive meetings.
What do we know about AMISA2
AMISA2 (and its predecessor AMISA) has been holding meetings since the 1990s, mostly with senior speakers from EU institutions, “in order to educate corporate representatives about recent developments in EU policy fields”.
The breakfast debates, which last around 90 minutes, aim to encourage a dialogue and exchange of information between corporations and key EU officials and policy makers. This is the group’s only remit.
Brodach, the group’s president, appears to be its only employee and began running the meetings in 2010. Describing himself as an “experienced public affairs executive” on his LinkedIn, Brodach has worked for ABB, a power technology company and AMISA2 member, for 14 years.
The meaning of AMISA2‘s name, however, remains a mystery.
“Unfortunately I do not have the slightest idea what AMISA stands for,” Brodach told DeSmogUK. “I just inherited/adopted the name as it was when I took over in 2010 and added the ‘2’, since it was well introduced and had a good reputation.”
He took the group over from “a certain Mr Morgon, who was then already over 80 years old and who had brought the format from an earlier life in DC,” Brodach explained.
Brodach also discussed the group’s origins with CEO: “I am a ‘one-man-show’ and AMISA2 got started in July 2010. Before that there was a different organization of the name of AMISA (since the 90s) which was then created on the model of an organization GBF in Washington DC, but which ceased to exist.
“I took the good name in 2010 in order to continue along the same lines and to build on the good reputation among the professionals and with the institutions. The nearly 6 years now confirm my approach.”
And virtually every year since 1997 there have been meetings dedicated to discussing European energy, environment or climate policy issues.
The most recent example is a May 2015 meeting with director general for the Commission’s Climate Action department, Jos Delbeke, entitled: “What outcome should business expect from the COP21 climate change conference in Paris later this year?”
And back when Connie Hedegaard was the EU commissioner for climate action, she attended two meetings: a 2011 breakfast about “looking ahead on climate policy” and a 2010 meeting discussing “EU Climate Action – next steps”.
Ironically, the group also hosted a breakfast in January 2015 on the topic “How to make the EU more accountable and transparent” with the European Ombudsman as the guest speaker.
Who else attends these meetings?
Google, Dow Europe, Airbus and Michelin are all part of AMISA2. Membership fees cost €4,000 (£3,152) a year and only the head of a Brussels office can participate in the breakfast meeting (so essentially the company’s top EU lobbyist).
And while the events are not publicly advertised, Brodach told CEO that he also invites “personal friends” in order to “beef up” the audience.
For the most part though, AMISA2 participants do not talk about their involvement with the group.
Of the 18 corporate members, just five publicly declare it (ABB, Amgen, Dow Europe, Roche, and Total). Despite new transparency rules introduced in November 2014, none of the five meetings held between December 2014 and January 2016 with senior commission officials are declared (including the May 2015 COP21 meeting).
And while the group itself doesn’t publish any minutes, one set of 2014 minutes published by director general for the Commission’s trade department, Jean-Luc Demarty, show that corporations have ample opportunity to ask questions, with Demarty providing direct one-to-one answers.
As CEO writes: “If this is any indication of how the other breakfast meetings work, it is not hard to see why senior staffers from major corporations are keen to participate in AMSIA2”.
‘Working from the inside’
A press officer from French oil giant Total also lent some insight into why they joined and the nature of their participation.
They told DeSmog UK: “In defining a position on one issue, professional associations are looking for a consensus between their members. This consensus does not always reflect our position, but, when it is the case, we think it is better to work from the inside to promote our ideas and try to convince our peers rather than resigning and not being part of the discussion.”
They continued: “We confirm that our representatives have been instructed to argue in favor of our corporate positions whatever the majority of the association may think. Should there be any discrepancy between these organizations’ positions and our own, the latter will prevail.”
And according to Total, “in our views, our position on issues, climate for instance, is not in contradiction with our participation to both think tank or the professional associations … we think it is part of our duty to participate in the bodies dealing with important issues for our industry or debates with institutions.”
However, Brodach maintains that AMISA2 is not a lobbying group. This is despite the group declaring a lobby spend of between €25,000 and €49,000 (£19,702–£38,616) in 2015.
Speaking with CEO, Brodach said: “There are no minutes and there is no result, because there is no common set of interests and the intention is not to come to a ‘result’ whatsoever … if not to learn, understand and be educated on the topic. We are not a lobbying organization.”
But as CEO argues: “We find this disingenuous. While two chemical companies, or two energy companies, might be competitors in the market place, more likely than not, they will also have very similar interests when it comes to EU policy-making.”
“Is it really appropriate,” CEO asks, “that senior representatives of the EU institutions have consistently met with AMISA2 and its predecessor organisation, together with the major corporate members, for cosy chats for over 20 years?”
Photo: Malmaison Hotels via Flickr