• Several firms appear to have entered inaccurate data in the EU's lobby registry (Photo: Jorge Franganillo)

EU lobby register blasted as wildly inaccurate

29.09.10 @ 07:44

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - The European Commission has attracted fresh criticism over its fledgling EU lobby register, with new analysis suggesting that data for five out of the top 15 entries is likely to be inaccurate.

The number crunching exercise carried out using software robots by the pro-transparency coalition group Alter-EU on Monday evening (27 September) suggests many entrants have erroneously entered annual turnover figures rather than their EU lobbying budgets, placing them artificially high on EU register which was set up three years ago. Others appear to have simply misunderstood the term 'EU lobbying'.

As a result, one individual who pledged €5 million to the UK Conservative party and describes his aim as the setting up of a "university lottery for European universities" finds himself in eight position on the list.

Another surprisingly high entry is the Greek electronics firm, Prisma Electronics SA, which registered in tenth position after it declared its annual expenditure on EU lobbying as €3.9 million. The firm's website says the company's annuals sales are US$2.5 million - US$5 million, however. No one was available for available for an immediate comment.

"These companies do not have bad intentions, they just appear to have made a mistake in their reporting," Olivier Hoedeman, a researcher involved in the data crunching, told this website. "The commission should be monitoring this, there must be a huge number of inaccurate entries," he added.

At the same time, Alter-EU's exercise in arranging the 3000 entrants on the list according to their stated expenditure on EU lobbying has thrown up a number of figures which the group describes as "impossibly small", while other companies are noticeable through their complete absence from the register.

Revolving doors

Speaking at an event in the European parliament on Tuesday, Christian Linder, a cabinet member of EU administration commissioner Maros Sefcovic, said EU rules did not enable a system of compulsory registration.

"There is no legal basis in the treaty that makes it obligatory," he told participants at an event to mark the 'International Right to Know Day'.

The EU executive body has been rocked by further allegations in recent days, related to the take-up of private sector jobs by six out of the 13 commissioners who finished their jobs in February.

Alter-EU has called for the introduction of a three-year 'cooling-off' period for former commissioners, and urged the current administration to block the new jobs occupied by Charlie McCreevy and Gunter Verheugen because of conflicts of interest.

The group said the commission's existing checks are inadequate, pointing to the work of the institution's Ad-hoc Ethical Committee as "superficial". The committee has yet to reject a single application.

In response to mounting criticism, Mr Verheugen has claimed that his job at the Royal Bank of Scotland does not involve lobbying, while his recently set-up lobby firm, the European Experience Company, is also above board as he does not officially work there.

Access to documentation

Questions over the ability of European citizens to access EU documents is another component in the increasingly heady mix of complaints, with a group of environmental lawyers recently suing the EU over alleged attempts to restrict access to information.

"The EU institutions are currently suffering from a legitimacy deficit, not a democratic deficit, so the EU can ill-afford to ignore transparency," warned European Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros, co-organiser of the event.

Mr Diamandouros said more than one third of the Ombudsman's inquiries concern complaints about the lack of transparency in the EU administration, including difficulties in accessing information.