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13th Aug 2022

Commission criticises think-tanks over lobby register

  • Anti-lobbyist demo in Brussels: the role played by pressure groups in Brussels has been a bone of contention for many years (Photo: EUobserver)

Europe's anti-fraud commissioner, Siim Kallas, criticised EU think-tanks in Brussels on Friday (17 April) for failing to sign up to the European Commission's register of lobbyists.

The lobby register lists the names of organisations that attempt to influence European legislation, their stated aims and funding sources amongst other details, but Brussels lobbyists - numbering an estimated 15,000 - do not have to sign up if they do not wish to as the register is voluntary.

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Mr Kallas said the register was not only intended for public relations firms working in Brussels but for all organisations wishing to influence policy formulation and decision-making processes in the European institutions.

"We explicitly and deliberately included think-tanks in the target group," he said.

So far the European Policy Centre is the only major Brussels-based think-tank to sign up to the register said Mr Kallas and was also the host of the breakfast meeting at which he chose to make the speech.

Many European think-tanks gain part of their revenue through membership subscriptions from businesses that in turn hope to gain better access to EU officials by attending the same organised events.

Mr Kallas singled out the Friends of Europe think-tank who are organising an event later this month entitled "Investing in Africa's growth and health."

"This is obviously a very serious event, but with two senior representatives on the panels, it is also a lobbying opportunity for the company Total, the corporate co-organiser of the event, putting it in touch with the EU development commissioner, high EU officials and MEPs," he said.

Nobody from the Friends of Europe was available to comment on Mr Kallas' remarks.

Guilty by association

One reason why Brussels-based think tanks have been slow to sign up to the register is concern that joining the list would add to the perception that their main role is indeed lobbying. Most see their work as promoting constructive debate on EU topics.

"Our side of the story is really very simple, we objected to the inclusion of think-tanks in the same basket with lobbyists, that's the main problem we have with the register," Marco Incerti of the Centre for European Policy Studies told EUobserver.

"If you ask a think-tank to sign up as a registered lobbyist, you are providing more ammunition for those who claim think-tanks are lobbyists."

Instead, the organisation chooses to list membership details and funding sources on its website.

Mr Incerti pointed out that many think-tank employees are already labelled as lobbyists by the European Parliament as part of their system for categorizing groups entering the parliament buildings.

Currently, different groups accessing the buildings such as members of the press, MEP assistants, and lobbyists are distinguished by the colour of their security badges.

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