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20th Aug 2022

MEPs vote for transparency, despite EPP secret ballot

  • Many MEPs in favour of transparency hold up signs to publicly show their support, since the ballot was held in secret (Photo: Javor Benedek)

Efforts by German centre-right MEPs to block greater transparency in the European Parliament via a secret ballot ended in defeat on Thursday (31 January).

The plenary in Brussels instead backed calls to require leading MEPs to disclose to the public their meetings with lobbyists.

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It will also allow all MEPs who volunteer to do so, to publish their monthly expenses report on the website of the parliament.

For the German European People's Party delegation, the most contentious issue had been offering up a legislative paper trail of meetings, which they claim infringes on their rights to work as they see fit.

But that German argument fell flat when MEPs, many of whom were holding up signs to publicly show their votes since the ballot was held in secret, backed the pro-transparency amendment attached to a rules of procedure report by British centre-left MEP Richard Corbett.

"Amazingly, the centre-right EPP group forced a secret vote on these new transparency rules – so as to hide that many of their members will vote against publishing details of their meetings with lobbyists and big business," said Corbett.

"Fortunately, their tactics failed and those fighting for more transparency won."

Some 380 MEPs voted in favour of transparency against 224 with 26 abstentions.

The proposals also "encourage" MEPs to publish online any meetings they hold with any interest representatives.

Such demands followed the 2011 cash-for-amendment scandal, when three MEPs were caught accepting large sums of money to table amendments from British undercover journalists posing as corporate lobbyists.

One of those MEPs, disgraced centre-right Austrian Ernst Strasser, had been charging up to €100,000 a year for his services to help shape EU legislation.

Another two socialist MEPs, Romania's Adrian Severin and Zoran Thaler of Slovenia, were also implicated in similar affairs.

But eight years later, the European Parliament still has not fully endorsed a plan to create a mandatory joint-transparency register that covers all MEPs.

Instead, Thursday's vote only requires committee chairs and others who draft reports to publish their meetings with lobbyists.

Another issue is whether the European Commission is now willing to restart negotiations with the European parliament to create a mandatory joint-transparency register, that also covers member states in the Council.

"The European parliament can still approve a new agreement between the institutions, until 17 April. Otherwise, the new parliament would have to work out a new negotiating position after the European elections," said German Green MEP Sven Giegold.

Many of the approved changes are expected to be adopted next month.

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Under Manfred Weber's leadership, the European People's Party in February forced through a secret ballot trying to derail more transparency at the European Parliament. Now, Weber is wondering why people perceive the EU as a black box.

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Efforts to set up a better transparency register for lobbyists have collapsed after two years of talks. The impasse revolves around the European Commission's insistence that the register also become mandatory for the European Parliament and Council.

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MEPs in January 2019 agreed to a rule change in a bid for greater transparency. The rules included requiring committee chairs to publish their meetings with registered lobbyists. EUobserver spoke to six chairs, who haven't done so yet.

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