Lobbyists attempting to take advantage of European citizen e-petitions will be blocked by safeguards in the petitioning process, according to the European Commission.
Public-relations firms including Bell Pottinger and Fleishman-Hillard have offered to use the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) — an e-petition programme — to lobby the European Commission on behalf of corporations, in breach of ECI rules, according to a report by the Independent on Tuesday.
The EU has said it is prepared for lobbyists who may try to take advantage of a new citizen e-petition scheme to push their own agenda.
"We're not naive... We assumed in designing the initiative that this could be a problem," said Gravili. "We're not going to accept an invitation for a proposal from a private lobbying firm — or from the TUC, or from Greenpeace."
The ECI programme opened for signature collection on 1 April, according the ECI website. To be considered by the Commission, petitions must reach a threshold of signatories from different member states. For example, 54,000 signatures must be collected from the UK, and 74,250 must come from Germany.
Gravili said that individual citizens from at least seven different European Union member states had to form a committee to propose a petition, and that committee funding had to be transparent.
Gravili conceded that it was feasible that a lobbying firm or organisation could co-ordinate individuals in Europe to launch a petition, but said that a petition needed a million signatures to be considered by the Commission as a basis for legislation. Organisations would be unlikely to be able to mobilise a million affiliates — the sheer number of required signatories would stop niche influence of European policy, said Gravili.
"[The citizen committee] has to have full transparency about where its funding is coming from," said Gravili. "After one million signatures have been gathered, it's still for the Commission to decide whether to bring forward legislation."
The Commission will not check the affiliations of signatories, leaving organisations "somehow manag[ing] to wrangle" the launch of a petition as a feasible option, said Gravili. Nevertheless, if a petition gets a million signatures, this indicates a groundswell of support, said Gravili.
Individuals from NGOs and environmental organisations have been more active in lobbying the European Commission than PR companies, Gravili added.
"Greenpeace and NGOs are far more active than private lobbying firms," Gravili said.
Bell Pottinger and Fleishman-Hillard had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.