February 28th, 2019

ExxonMobil Comes To Brussels

By Eilidh Robb

Update, March 19 : ExxonMobil, despite happily using lobbying opportunities in the European Parliament and other EU institutions, has refused parliamentarians’ invitation to speak at the hearing. This is unacceptable. Parliament must act to hold Exxon accountable. At the hearing, we will be asking them to revoke their lobbying access entirely, just as they did with Monsanto in 2017.

In the same way that we look back on the tobacco industry’s remarkable PR stunts and wonder how they got away with it, we will look back on the activities of ExxonMobil and ask ourselves the same question.

For the past 50 years ExxonMobil has been sitting on some pretty important findings about the certainty of human-induced climate change – findings that they conveniently hid from the world by launching a $33 billion campaign to sow doubt and denial about global warming, which allowed them to justify continued pollution.

ExxonMobil in the US

Luckily, the tables are already turning, and in the US several state attorneys have launched official investigations into ExxonMobil’s behaviour and activities related to climate change denial. Most notably, the states of Massachusetts (2016) and New York (2018) filed suits claiming that ExxonMobil violated state consumer protection rules and misled investors. Both cases have now been given the green light to access ExxonMobil’s internal documents, and are in the process of review. Although this litigation helps set the record straight globally, it only holds ExxonMobil accountable in the US, and does not address ExxonMobil’s activities in Europe.

ExxonMobil in the EU

ExxonMobil has made itself quite comfortable in the European Union, having extracted fossil fuels there for the last 125 years. ExxonMobil claims to be ‘one of Europe’s largest oil and gas producers, a major refiner of crude oil for fuels and lubricants, and one of Europes leading petrochemical companies’ with ‘world-scale’ refineries. Over the past five years alone, ExxonMobil invested US $14.5 billion in Europe  – about 8% of their global investments.

An important lobby power

But this is not the only way ExxonMobil has been expanding its influence across the EU. Taking a brief dive into its lobby spending and activities reveals a lot more about the company’s priorities. In a recent report, ExxonMobil was found to have the fourth largest lobby spending in Brussels, spending €4.75m on gas lobbying in 2016 and a grand total of a reported €19 million on gas lobbying between 2011 and 2015. This lobbying budget has also included funding a variety of world-leading PR firms that have helped them establish their dominance within the Brussels Gas Lobby circuit.

ExxonMobil sits on the European Commission’s main gas advisory group and works inside of BusinessEurope (the employers’ federation) which has privileged access to top decision-makers, organises parliamentary events, and operates within multiple trade associations that often provide access to advisory groups. ExxonMobil can play a direct hand in shaping policy through these organizations.  And between 2014 and 2016, ExxonMobil had at least twelve meetings with senior European Commission representatives to discuss energy and climate.

Food & Water Europe holds them accountable

In 2016, Food & Water Europe launched a petition to the European Parliament asking them to address ExxonMobil’s funded climate denial. Along with others, we spoke at a committee meeting and convinced a majority of parliamentarians to back the need for action. As a result, it was decided that on the 21st of March 2019 there would be a public hearing on climate change denial.

The hearing will be the first time that ExxonMobil has been asked by an EU institution to talk about misleading the public outside the US, and parliamentarians will confront the corporation’s attempts to promote climate denial within the EU.

The hearing, which will take place in the European Parliament, will be accessible to anyone, however you will need to register to gain access to the building (contact us if you need help with this). The two panels will be livestreamed so that anyone interested in the hearing can watch from home. We are hopeful that this will kick-start the process of forcing ExxonMobil to pay for their actions, and more broadly, will force the EU to reconsider the role of big fossil fuel lobby groups in EU climate and energy policy-making.


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