Christian Koch and Richard Burchill. I am sure, you have never heard of them. Yet they are people in key positions, who have been able to influence the decisions of European governments on some fundamental issues: the sale of arms to the Emirates and the acceptance that they are opening military bases abroad, especially in the Horn of Africa; the fact that neither Saudi Arabia nor Abu Dhabi have been held accountable for the heinous murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the fact that they are considered moderate countries, despite the fact that we are absolute, violent, chauvinist monarchies.
Lobbyists like Koch and Burchill, disguised as university professors, tell the world that the Arab Spring, the popular movement that, a decade ago, sought to overthrow the Arab monarchies in order to achieve democracy, is an action of jihadist terrorism – and likewise accuse anyone who supported that movement, first and foremost the Muslim Brotherhood, of jihadism.
At the same time, they lead groups of professionals in EU committees who fight for special trade relations with the West, to get it accepted that Abu Dhabi’s cyber-espionage system is even more perfected and dangerous than the Russian and Chinese ones – and, in France, that the emirate monarchy has bought the French pension system, creating a dependency that goes far beyond diplomatic agreements. All this has existed for decades, but it is far removed from the attention of the media and the population – and would have remained so, had it not been for an incident that forced the European Parliament to take international lobbying seriously.
The Kaili earthquake
31 October 2022: Eva Kaili visiting members of the Qatari government in Doha, by whom she was bribed
9 December 2022 2022: the Office Central Pour la Répression de la Corruption orders the Belgian police to raid 20 houses and offices in Brussels, and the rooms of the European Parliament. Searches uncovered suitcases and safes full of money: EUR 1.5 million – for which eight people were put in handcuffs, including Eva Kaili (Greek politician and MEP), her partner Francesco Giorgi and former Italian MEP Antonio Panzeri. The investigators also raided the offices of Fight Impunity, an organisation set up to fight against human rights violations, of which Panzeri is president. It is an institutional earthquake that uncovers a hitherto unknown world: that of the lobbyists who, by paying bribes, direct the choices of many MEPs.
The investigation continues: after initially studying the links between individual MEPs and Qatar, it now extends to the lobbies of other countries, especially those that invest the largest sums, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates: according to a study by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, the Emirates have had a decisive influence on the foreign policy not only of the European Union, but also of the United States. According to an analysis of Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) documents, at least 25 lobbying firms represent Abu Dhabi, and agents working for the Emirates are said to have organised more than 10,000 meetings and conferences with members of Congress, the Senate and major media, and to have spent more than 64 million dollars a year on these activities.
The start of their activities in America coincides with the appointment of Ambassador Al-Otaiba in Washington, they mainly aim at exploiting the Abraham Agreements and obtaining arms contracts worth billions of dollars (including the F-35), and they are at least partially illegal: they run an Al-Jazeera sabotage operation, they fight against the law calling for an end to US participation in the war in Yemen, and they orchestrate relations with Israeli extremist groups and the US right wing. According to Justice Department figures, the Emirates have spent more than $154 million on lobbying activities since 2016, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in donations to universities and think tanks that have produced pro-UAE policy papers; they have engaged hundreds of retired military personnel, including former generals and admirals, who lend their backgrounds to facilitate arms deals with Abu Dhabi.
Brussels is the other lobbying capital of the world: Transparency International speaks of at least 48,000 people involved, structured into organisations that specialise in influencing EU institutions and decisions, 7500 of which do so with total transparency: the organisations that appear in a voluntary register number almost 12,000 and declare an annual budget of EUR 1.8 billion. In the report of the Special Commission on Foreign Interference in Democratic Processes in the European Union of 9 March 2022, we read that in recent years ‘countries such as China and Russia, but also Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, have invested heavily in lobbying in Brussels’.
January 2021: former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi travels to Riyadh to thank Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for his contribution to peace and democracy
In February 2022, Droit au Droit published the report ‘Undue Influence’. which sheds light on the activities of the Emirates in the democratic processes of the European Union. Through an extensive network of consultancy firms, strategic communications companies, influential personalities, members of the European Parliament, media platforms, political centres and think-tanks, Abu Dhabi demonstrates an impressive degree of access to the institutions, so that the President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola, recognising a dangerous regulatory vacuum presents a 14-point reform aimed at combating conflicts of interest and preventing interference from third countries as far as possible, including an obligation for MEPs to declare the jobs they hold outside their legislative mandate and a ban on lobbying for a defined period after leaving the European Parliament.
This is a fundamental reform to avoid illegitimate lobbying: most of the money received by European politicians is not in cash, but as reimbursement for trips to conferences, board mandates of companies, invitations to speak at conferences or to attend meetings of a particular association, writing opinions for the payer’s universities. And those who pay create a network of consultancy firms, think-tanks, study centres and information organs (but also of disinformation, with the use of trolls and bots in social media), organise media campaigns and proudly show that they have important personalities at their side – putting Francesco Totti, an American pop singer and Matteo Renzi on the same level as inviting them to a party, the important thing is to show that you belong to the right group of friends.
The aim is to spread one’s own narrative of ‘authoritarian stability’ as a counter to the idea of democratic Islam as the gateway to terrorism and to justify absolute and repressive monarchies: according to Emirate Leaks, as early as July 2015 an investigation sheds light on the activities of the BIC (Brussels International Centre for Research and Human Rights), focused on defaming Kuwait and promoted by Ramadan Abu Jazar, a man close to Mohammed Dahlan, the man considered to be the organiser of the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, adviser to Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, whose director is the former Belgian ambassador to Jerusalem, military expert Marc Otte.
The Bussola Institute
Honorary members of Bussola Institute include senior figures from international politics
One of the most active organisations is Bussola Institute, a think-tank founded in Brussels in October 2017. Although the Institute claims to advance the interests of all Gulf countries, in reality its institutional activities, relationships, and related personalities revolve around Abu Dhabi. As stated by Corporate Europe, ‘it was founded exclusively by figures from the UAE establishment’: ‘its reports are an elegant tool for explaining the foreign policy objectives of the Emirates, and its events in Brussels regularly host high-level officials such as European Commissioners and officials from the European External Action Service’, i.e. the diplomatic service agency of the European Union.
It is no coincidence that the Bussola Institute was born in the very year that the Emirates inaugurated its ‘Soft Power’ strategy that aims ‘to enhance the country’s global reputation abroad by highlighting its identity, heritage, culture and the UAE’s contributions to the world’. The strategy works (the annual Global Soft Power Index on the success of individual countries sees the Emirates ranked 11th in the world, first among Middle Eastern countries), and this hides the constant violations of human rights from the eyes of the world: Sharia courts that consider legal forms of punishment such as flogging and stoning, atrocities committed in Yemen and support for Libya, arbitrary detentions and torture in prisons, repression of information, discrimination against sex or stateless people, inhuman treatment at work, the application of the death penalty, all of which the European Union seems not to notice.
The Bussola Institute is engaged in massive media campaigns, as highlighted by an investigation published by the French website OrientXXI, the aim of which is the systematic denigration of Qatar, accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, using documents stolen by hacking and courting French parliamentarians: according to OrientXXI, the warm welcome given to the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, during an official visit to Paris is no coincidence. Just as it is no coincidence that Manchester City was bought in 2008, seeking consensus in the widespread popularity of football, or that the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation bought 2% of Euronews.
Bussola Institute, although registered in the EU’s Transparency Register, does not let out any information on funding received or figures: ‘total budget €938,725’. that is all. It does not reveal the names of its supporters, has no active website but only a Facebook page. It presents itself as an academic organisation and benefits from excellent collaborators, mostly conservatives, such as José Maria Aznar, former president of the Spanish government; Christian Wulff, former German president; Mary Patricia McAleese, former Irish president; Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 12th Secretary General of NATO; Jadranka Kosor, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia; François Fillon, former Prime Minister of France (sentenced to five years in prison in July 2020 for providing more than EUR 1.156 million in public funds to his wife Penelope for a job that was never done); Anna Diamantopoulou, former European Commissioner.
Several MEPs are listed as ‘guests of honour’, among them the former Polish Prime Minister Jerzey Busek, the Secretary General of the European People’s Party, Antonio López-Isturiz, and the President of the Party of European Socialists, Sergei Dmitrievich Stanishev, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria and Vice-President of the EU-EAU Parliamentary Friendship Group. The intent is obvious: the Bussola Institute’s policy papers are an elegant way to conquer the foreign policy goals of the Emirates.
People with important backgrounds work there: John Dennehy, Secretary General of Bussola Institute, is the former Secretary General of the Irish Department of Education. Angus Taverner is a British military strategist developing psychological operations programmes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mohammed Bahareon (BA and MA in English Literature, Director General of Dubai Public Policy Research Centre) is a former reporter for Al Arabi magazine and Al Ittihad newspaper, then editor for Gulf Defence magazine, and former deputy editor of Watani, a UAE nationalist magazine.
Christian Koch and Richard Burchill
Christian Koch Richard Burchill
One of the most active figures in the Bussola Institute, especially from the media point of view, is Christian Koch: PhD at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg with a thesis on the role of voluntary association in the political development of Kuwait, then study at the American University in Washington and South Carolina. In January 2007 he joined the advisory board of the German Orient Foundation. A senior advisor at Bussola Institute until October 2020, between 1995 and 2004 he was head of the Strategic Studies section at the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (Mohammed Buin Zayed Al Nahyan’s centre of political and military power). He has held various positions at the Gulf Research Centre since 2004 and is currently Director of International Studies.
He is a member of the editorial board of the Center for Global Studies (CGS) and the Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait; he is an honorary member of the Switzerland-Emirati Friendship Forum – among other things, university researcher for institutes in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. He has published numerous books praising the Abu Dhabi monarchy, including some published in the name of and on behalf of the European Union Parliament. He writes regularly for the international media (Financial Times, Handelsblatt, Süddeutsche Zeitung) and his BBC television appearances are numerous: in other words, he is a loyal employee of the Emirati monarchy working as an independent columnist in many universities and global media.
Koch’s thinking is based on the assumption that Western civilisation owes its origin to Christianity, a symbol of optimism, science, economic growth, liberalism and individualism. All of which the pope would certainly listen to grudgingly… But these six pillars are under constant threat: first of all, he regrets that the West does not promote any religious philosophy and doctrine: ‘Western civilisation does not recognise the necessity of man’s submission to anything other than economic, social or national. Its true divinity is not spiritual […] its true and living philosophy is expressed in a will to power as an end in itself. Both have been inherited from ancient Roman civilisation […] Instead of faith we have agnosticism or relativism. Instead of optimism, we have fatalism…” .
But his real obsession is the threat that comes from Islam because, unlike all other religions, it is unable to implement a clear separation between religion and politics, indeed, the latter is an integral part of it: in short, those six pillars dear to Koch are threatened by the expansion of Islam. Listed in this way, Koch’s position is indeed singular and, probably, in more than one environment, could be laughed at: but he is paid for it, and those who support him also defend his writings – with money and stipends: and so Christian Koch’s singular theses become the basis for a global political discourse.
Richard Burchill is Senior Research Fellow of the Bussola Institute, and the former Director of Research at TRENDS Research & Advisory – another Abu Dhabi think-tank, and has held several senior positions in the British university system, authored nine books and authored over sixty other contributions to academic journals, book chapters and publications worldwide. He also works in Brussels and other European capitals to persuade local governments to fight against the Islamic Brotherhood and in favour of the ferocious dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates – and to offer money to buy football teams, weapons, industrial and financial holdings. Two almost unknown but very powerful people in an ocean of sharks that has been working to devour the independence of EU politics for over 30 years. This is not just corruption, but a frontal attack on representative democracy.
 https://www.ilpost.it/2021/01/28/renzi-arabia-saudita-video/ ; https://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2021/03/03/renzi-incomprehensible-on-mbs-khashoggi-girlfriend_3c0578b0-507f-4ce2-9145-14e4b84504de.html
 https://www.bussolainstitute.org/ non è raggiungibile; https://www.politico.eu/newsletter/politico-eu-influence/politico-brussels-influence-meps-trigger-lobbying-ban-on-monsanto-behind-the-think-tanks-updated-facebook-fakes/