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24th Jul 2021

MEPs reject greater transparency in hidden vote

  • Critics say the lobby register is mandatory in name only for the European Parliament (Photo: Arek Dreyer)

MEPs in a committee have voted down efforts to make the European Parliament more transparent, refusing also to shame lobbyists convicted of fraud and corruption.

Other measures to make it easier for the public to follow how MEPs operate were also rejected.

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The amendments were part of a wider report on the so-called mandatory register for lobbyists, aimed at making the EU institutions more transparent, put to a vote on Monday (12 April).

Although the report itself passed, the majority of MEPs in the constitutional affairs committee (Afco) scuppered proposals to make themselves more accountable.

"After half a decade of negotiations, the parliament adopted the most minimal changes possible and the real issues on the transparency of lobbying at EU level were left unsolved," said Vitor Teixeira from Transparency International EU, an NGO, in an email.

Seeing how individual MEPs voted on amendments at the committee level is not possible, unless requested, leaving constituents in the dark. The number of votes cast on the amendments are instead published.

Those records show that most refused to apply transparency principles on themselves, while gutting out any notion of "mandatory" in the lobby register.

The current EU joint transparency register lists thousands of lobbyists that attempt to shape and influence lawmakers and policy makers.

Over four years of talks have been held to make the register obligatory for the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council.

Among the stated goals was to bring the EU institutions closer to the public.

But MEPs have proclaimed themselves exempt, citing their "freedom of mandate", a notion staunchly defended by European Parliament vice-president Rainer Wieland.

Some 60 amendments had been tabled on a draft report written by former European Commissioner and current MEP Danuta Huebner.

"Only groups of interest listed in the register may carry out lobbying activities," she said in a tweet, following the adoption of her report.

"It will give citizens an insight into how lobbyists influence the EU law-making process," she added.

Binding or not binding?

Yet an amendment in her report demanding a "binding system" to prevent unregistered lobbyists from meeting MEPs was rejected by almost everyone.

Twenty-two in the committee opposed it, while only six were in favour.

Preventing unregistered lobbyists from meeting assistants and advisors was also shot down by 21 MEPs against six.

Another amendment, seeking to inform the public via an annual report of lobbyists convicted of crimes such as fraud and corruption, was dismissed by 17 against, 10 in favour, and one abstention.

Even a proposal to ensure that the committee follows through on European Parliament commitments on transparency and lobbying was rejected.

The rejection was tabled via an amendment by Germany's Wieland and Sven Simon, both from the centre-right European People's Party.

The report will now go to the plenary for a vote from all the MEPs, against the backdrop of the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe, intended to promote civic engagement with the EU.

This article was updated on 15 April, 2021 at 14:16 with a statement from Transparency International

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