Thursday

25th May 2017

Focus

UK transparency law could hinder EU campaign groups

On the eve of the 2010 UK General Election, Conservative Party leader David Cameron spoke of "the next big scandal waiting to happen", an issue that "goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics", a problem "that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money".

This "next big scandal" was described by Cameron at the time as "corporate lobbying", that is, the attempt by businesses and other organisations to influence political decisions.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The unofficial name of the bill is the 'gagging law' (Photo: g.rohs)

The actual result of Cameron's part-time crusade against non-party-political influences on government has been a piece of legislation which finally passed through parliament at the end of January.

Officially it's known as the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2013. Unofficially it's known as the 'gagging law'.

And with good reason.

While the act as a whole is misdirected, transforming a democratic right such as lobbying or, to put it another way, the ability to put one's case to an elected representative, into an object of suspicion, it is the government's attempt to regulate 'non-party campaigning' that will really stifle non-party-political voices.

According to the act, organisations not registered as political parties, be they campaign groups, charities or other groupings yet to be defined, will have to work with the UK's election regulator, the Electoral Commission, to ensure that in the run-up to elections, the cost of their work, if it can be 'reasonably' seen to be influencing an election, does not exceed certain financial thresholds.

The national threshold for a campaign in England during a designated election period (which could be up to a year) has been set at £20,000 (€24,000) and £10,000 for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

For a campaign that addresses an issue in a constituency (for example, the closure of a hospital), the threshold is just £9,750. Crucially, campaign expenditure will include a group's staffing costs.

It's not difficult to see how this could affect the ability of countless groups to propagate their ideas or pursue their causes.

In the months-long run-up to a European Parliament Election, for instance, a group campaigning around immigration, or indeed membership of the EU, could 'reasonably' be seen to be influencing the election.

They would therefore be subjected to what one member of the House of Lords called a 'bureaucratic nightmare', not to mention a strict financial limit on their campaigning.

As Susannah Compton, a campaigner at 38 Degrees, a group at the forefront of opposition to the act, told EUobserver: "Campaign groups now face an almost unfeasible burden being placed on their everyday activity . . . This is a pretty catastrophic piece of legislation for the whole sector."

Yet, as Compton sees it, there was one positive to have emerged from the act: it galvanised resistance from a remarkable range of campaign groups and organisations, from the animal rights-oriented League Against Cruel Sports to the pro-fox hunting Countryside Alliance.

"I don't think that I've seen a coalition as broad," Compton said, "it really was a civil society campaign, from beginning to end."

Still, as it stands, the Transparency of Lobbying Act does not look as if it's going to help clean up politics as its Conservative architects contend.

Rather, it looks set to further cleanse the political sphere not of corruption, but of the public itself.

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

EUobserved

Schadenfreude and fire-walking in the EP

There was outright glee in the EP on Thursday. It was time to dust off everyone’s favourite German word for pleasure in the misfortune of others.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

News in Brief

  1. British PM to speak out on US terrorism leaks
  2. Tusk calls for 'values, not just interests' after Trump meeting
  3. Pressure grows on climate impact of EU timber harvesting
  4. US goes after Fiat Chrysler over emissions cheat
  5. Munich police break up Europe-wide burglar clan
  6. Report: VW threatened with €19.7 billion French fine
  7. Turkey begins mass trial of suspected coup leaders
  8. Merkel's CDU consolidates lead in polls

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild Alert on Myanmar: Fruits of Rapid Development yet to Reach Remote Regions
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  3. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  5. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  6. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  8. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  9. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  10. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition
  11. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi: China's Belt and Road Initiative Benefits People Around the World
  12. Malta EU 2017EU Strengthens Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms

Latest News

  1. EU to Trump: Defend Western values, not your interests
  2. Nato to join Trump's anti-IS coalition
  3. Trump expected to make Nato pledge
  4. Car-sharing's promise of clean cities
  5. Openness over Brexit is 'political play', says EU ombudsman
  6. Le Pen's EU group in fresh spending scandal
  7. New EU right to data portability to cause headaches
  8. Cyber threats are inevitable, paralyzing impact is not