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26th Jul 2021

Leading MEP: 'anti-democratic' to meet only registered lobbyists

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld has built a reputation for greater transparency. But when it comes to demanding MEPs only meet with registered lobbyists, she draws a line.

"It is misguided and it is profoundly anti-democratic," she told EUobserver on Wednesday (28 April).

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She said the "real influence" on MEPs are national parties and governments. They determine who is selected on election lists, she said.

Yet there are also some 13,000 registered lobbyists, seeking to exert influence on European Union level policy and laws.

And they spend anywhere between €1.6bn to €2.4bn per year on it.

Her comments were made after the European Parliament earlier this week voted in favour of creating a so-called mandatory register for lobbyists.

The vote follows five years of debates on the issue. It means the register now applies to all three big EU institutions, including the European Parliament.

European Commissioners are already required to meet only registered lobbyists. The Council, representing member states, only requires rotating EU presidencies to declare meetings.

Meanwhile, MEPs have excluded themselves. They also oppose efforts of having to inform the public.

Except in name, the register won't be mandatory at all.

Scandalous

Transparency International EU, an NGO in Brussels, called it "scandalous."

But In't Veld says MEPs should not be required to leave a legislative footprint.

"It is fake transparency," she said, adding that elected representatives should be free to meet anyone they want.

"The only thing it shows is whom you are meeting, it doesn't show who has an influence," she added.

Instead, MEPs should be judged by voting records and what they do, she said. But figuring out how an MEP votes may not be straightforward for some.

For example, In't Veld along with some 400 MEPs rejected an amendment demanding they meet only registered lobbyists.

The results of the votes on the amendment are found in a 33-page document.

It is labelled "A9-0123/2021 - Danuta Maria Hübner - Am 2", followed by names of MEPs and how they voted.

But the actual text of the amendment is missing.

Instead, it is buried somewhere else on the European Parliament's website.

In't Veld also took issue against having to meet only registered lobbyists. It creates "an indirect pressure" on MEPs to explain why they are meeting one lobbyist but not another, she said.

MEPs who chair committees are required to publish meetings with lobbyists. So too are MEPs who lead on legislative files, also known as rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs.

In't Veld herself publishes her own meetings. She also says her staff helps drafts amendments.

Yet MEP assistants and policy advisors are also exempt from having to disclose lobby meetings.

"There isn't even a system for voluntary publication for the policy advisors, there is no system for publication," said Vitor Teixeira from Transparency International EU.

He says requiring MEPs to meet registered lobbyists helps create awareness. And he argues that access to MEPs also needs to be equal, noting that big industry has an unfair advantage. Bringing more transparency and more accountability to lobbyists is needed given their influence has a continent-wide impact, he said.

"How is that against democracy?" he said.

MEPs reject greater transparency in hidden vote

The European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee have curtailed efforts to make MEPs more accountable and transparent, by rejecting amendments in a report on lobbying. How each voted on the amendments was also kept in the dark.

EU parliament snubs anti-corruption researchers

Transparency International carried out three separate studies on integrity, of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council (representing member states). The European Parliament refused to cooperate.

New EU lobbyist register not mandatory, critics say

The press conference held jointly this week by the three EU institutions declared a breakthrough agreement on a joint-transparency register for lobbyists. Not everyone is convinced.

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