By Simon Cox
Radio 4's The Investigation
The European Commission is giving millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to environmental campaigners to run lobbying operations in Brussels, the BBC has learned.
MEPs have questioned EC grants to lobby groups
Among the organisations to benefit is Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE), which received almost half of its funding from the EU in 2007.
Siim Kallas, a vice president of the Commission in charge of the EU's anti-fraud operations, told Radio 4's The Investigation he had been assured this funding was not taking place.
He said: "The European Commission is not financing anybody to lobby ourselves - nobody is supported just for being there."
'A bit schizophrenic'
But the EC Environment Directorate has said it does give money to environmental groups to lobby.
It says this is an attempt to put such groups on an equal footing with corporate lobbyists in Brussels, although it has admitted this is "a bit schizophrenic".
In 2006 the EU gave more than 7.7m euros (£5.5m; $11.2m) to at least 40 environmental organisations to help them lobby in Brussels.
They included big campaign groups such as WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and FoE Europe.
They are both in the Green 10, a powerful environmental lobbying network which works closely with the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
In 2006 the EU gave the Green 10 more than £2.5m to help them lobby - only Greenpeace refused the cash.
Tony Long, of WWF Europe, defended the arrangement.
"If the EU wants expertise on fisheries or climate change, for example, by supporting NGOs (non governmental organisations), they are bringing into the system the expertise not just of Brussels-based NGOs but the expertise of these groups from other countries," he said.
Grant Lawrence, a senior official in the European Directorate, told The Investigation it was important for NGOs to have a presence in Brussels.
"Industries and companies involved are much richer and they will be here and the NGOs have to be on an equal footing," he said.
But MEPs have begun to question this funding arrangement.
Chris Heaton-Harris, a British MEP, was applauded when he raised the issue in the European Parliament.
"There is something wrong with organisations being funded by the European Commission to then lobby parliament and the commission," he told the BBC.
Ingeborg Grassle, a German MEP and member of the parliament's budgetary control committee, has been trying to persuade MEPs to reconsider this funding.
"This is quite incredible, I do not see the sense of this spending," she said.
The Investigation: Radio 4, 2000GMT, Thu 6 December. Online from Radio 4's Listen again page. Podcast from the File on 4 website.