30th Mar 2023

EU lobby register still riddled with errors

  • The European Parliament is promising reforms in the wake of Qatargate. Critics say it falls short of what is needed (Photo: European Parliament)
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The EU's lobby register remains riddled with errors, as pro-transparency campaigners demand better data and mandatory oversight rules.

The latest findings come amid a raft of proposals by the European Parliament president to weed out corruption in the wake of the Qatargate lobbying scandal.

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"The fact that the register is not legally-binding really, is a massive flaw in the EU's approach to these issues," said Vicky Cann at the Brussels-based Corporate European Observatory, an NGO.

Cann identified some 431 suspicious entries, which were then reviewed by the register's secretariat.

The secretariat then reached out to each one and found that only three percent of the original entries were correct.

It had also removed 38 percent of them from the register. Another 59 percent of the total cases had since provided a satisfactory update, it said.

But the lobbying expenditure of some continues to raise eyebrows when it comes to expenditure accuracy.

For instance, the European Spallation Source, a Swedish-based research infrastructure, now tops the spending list of the some 13,000 lobbyists on the register.

Despite having only one declared lobbyist in Brussels, the Swedish firm claims to have spent €10m in lobbying last year alone. The entry has since been updated to indicate they spent €10,000 — 24,999 for the financial year of 2021.

By comparison, the European Chemical Industry Council has 79 full-time lobbyists and declared €9m in lobbying.

Transparency International EU, also based in Brussels, says the issue may be partly due to new registration categories.

Those categories are adding confusion because some require entrants to declare worldwide operational costs, while others only lobbying costs.

"It is basically a lobbying register that is significantly less useful than before," said Raphaël Kergueno, a senior policy officer at Transparency International EU.

The errors and category confusion is overseen by a secretariat staffed with only nine people.

Despite the problems, the register is still seen as an important due diligence tool.

People who want to meet European Commissioners must be listed in the register. The same applies to the secretariat of the Council, representing member states. Even the embassies of the rotating EU presidencies sign up to the register.

But not the European Parliament. Only MEPs leading files or chairing committees are required to publish meetings, a rule not always followed.

MEPs last December demanded the register become mandatory in a resolution — a non-binding opinion that is often ignored.

Even the Bureau, the parliament's political leadership, has failed in the past to follow up on MEP wishes.

The demand for greater lobbying transparency comes in the wake of corruption allegations that has since landed four people, including the now former European Parliament vice president Eva Kaili, in pre-trail detention.

Roberta Metsola, the European Parliament's president, has since put forward 14 proposals to regain the trust of the wider public ahead of European elections next year.

This includes making the register mandatory but only for those taking part in European Parliament hearings, a move that Transparency International EU says still falls short of what is needed.

This article was updated 6 February, 2023 at 12:33 to indicate that the lobby spending by European Spallation Source has since been corrected in the transparency register

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