2nd Dec 2022

Irish cheerleaders mistake lobby registry for grant application

The Cheerleading Federation of Ireland last December signed up to the European Commission's lobbying registry in the mistaken hope that doing so would give it some recognition at the European level in order to win funding for the body.

In what appears to be yet another example of individuals abusing or confusing the European Commission lobbying registry, EUobserver has found that Hayden McGurk, the director of the group, listed it with the registry and reported that it had spent up to €50,000 euros lobbying the EU executive institution on cheerleading policy.

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  • Cheerleaders - the group said it meant no harm (Photo: Wikipedia)

The group thought the lobby registry, which is supposed to track lobbyists who try to influence decision-makers on EU legislation, was instead some sort of grant application form.

A far cry from a multi-national public relations firm such as Hill and Knowlton or APCO, the Cheerleading Federation of Ireland is a small, non-profit, volunteer-run organisation that trains school children in cheerleading.

It has a wafer-thin staff of two coaches and an annual budget of whatever eurocents they can scrape together.

"It's just a misunderstanding. We only signed up in the hope of getting some recognition and funding, thinking we could apply for grants," the 22-year-old Mr McGurk of Dublin told EUobserver.

"We're just trying to do good. I just don't want any trouble. Cheerleading's just taking off in Ireland, but it's big in the UK, and we were just looking for a bit of help."

"I swear it wasn't a scam or anything."

Mr McGurk said that the organisation had not spent any money on lobbying EU officials, and "certainly not €50,000."

"The Cheerleading Federation of Ireland has not supported any campaigns," he clarified, apologising profusely. He added he would remove the listing immediately, "as it should not be there."

An EU official with the Directorate General Education and Culture told this website that the EU has little direct competence regarding cheerleading other than under the wider rubric of sport, and even there, its responsibilities are limited.

The cheerleading listing comes after the discovery last week of a string of bogus Italian organisations on the register, put forward by businessman Gennaro Ruggiero to enhance their image.

Parliament, commission joint registry website

Separately, on Wednesday evening (18 February), a high-level group bringing together the European Commission and the European Parliament agreed to launch a website connecting the two institutions' lobbying registries before June.

The group comprised anti-fraud commissioner Siim Kallas and three MEPs representing the three major left, centre and right party groupings in the house, Jo Leinen, Diane Wallis and Ingo Friedrich.

The high-level group is to meet again in March to further discuss building a single register.

"We're making very good progress. The will to work to build a truly integrated register is there, and I personally think that it's the only thing that makes sense," commissioner Kallas told EUobserver after the meeting.

"We are sure that we will be able to amend the design of the [commission] register in a way that fully satisfies the parliament's requirements," he added.

The commissioner has said in the past that if there is to be a single register and the parliament makes signing up a condition for access, "then the registry will be de facto mandatory."

The commissioner said it was "regrettable" that the Council of Ministers - the third of the EU's main institutions, representing the member states, and also the most secretive - had decided not to participate in any joint registry.

"The Council was invited to the inter-institutional high-level working group, but they weren't present," said a source close the discussions.

The commission celebrated the thousandth registration of a lobbying organisation on Thursday, a development it referred to as "a milestone."

Brussels is home to an estimated 15,000 lobbyists and 3,000 lobbying organisations.

Data reliability

This week, Transparency International, an anti-corruption NGO, called for "a total review" of the commission register after what it called "the very disappointing results" of the current process.

Many big lobby companies and all major law firms have completely ignored the register and, according to the NGO, data, when provided, "is often irrelevant."

"The first eight months of the EU lobbyist register shows that a voluntary register does not bring the transparency needed," said Jana Mittermaier, head of the group's Brussels office.

"Of equal importance is guaranteeing the quality, reliability and comparability of the data," her colleague Miklos Marschall said.

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