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23rd Sep 2018

MEPs push for mandatory transparency register proposal by 2016

  • MEPs are facing an uphill battle to make the transparency register mandatory (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

A handful of euro-deputies working on the joint transparency register want the European Commission to propose making it mandatory in 2016.

The MEPs, representing all the political groups on Tuesday (11 February), backed a proposal by Italian centre-left Roberto Gualtieri for the commission to submit its bill by the end of the 2016.

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“The parliament has previously expressed itself in favour of an obligatory register and this report makes this suggestion again in an even more stringent manner,” said Gualtieri.

Gualtieri points out that a so-called “flexibility clause” buried in the existing treaty allows for a mandatory register.

The joint-transparency register is an online database on organisations that lobby both the European Commission and the European Parliament on EU policy.

The council, representing member states, has not signed up to the register.

Pro-transparency groups note that the database - which is voluntary - has errors and significant gaps.

But those backing the mandatory register are set to face an institutional legal battle with member states.

The MEPs are asking the commission to present its proposal using a flexibility clause, found in article 352 of the treaty, unless a treaty change establishes a direct legal basis.

"It [article 352 ] would raise a great number of complex legal issues, in particular with regard to the scope of the register, and compliance with other articles of the treaties," said European Commission spokesperson Anthony Gravili in an email.

He noted the article requires unanimity among member states and the approval by national parliaments as well.

EU insiders say the commission is hesitant because they know not all member states will agree, killing the initiative altogether.

“It [mandatory register] would make it a lot easier to extend the transparency register to the council and member states as well,” an EU source close to the issue told this website.

“The parliament finds itself often under heavy scrutiny by citizens and the media but no one really thinks about all the lobbying that is happening in the council,” he added.

MEPs want the member states to sign up to the registry as well, to make the entire legislative process more transparent.

Pro-transparency groups say that political will could be found if the commission was more pro-active in getting governments to support the plan.

Olivier Hoedeman at the Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory says there is an increasing debate in member states on national-level registers.

He noted that Austria, Ireland, and the UK have introduced registers with others on the way.

“The dynamic could change but it really requires some strong political signals. The parliament has given those signals but the commission so far has not,” he said.

Meanwhile, the parliament won’t be acting as a normal co-legislature but can only agree or disagree with the member states.

A second scenario to get a mandatory register involves adding a new article to the treaty, which would give the parliament full co-legislative powers alongside member states on this issue.

“If you want a different article in the treaty, then you need a treaty change,” parliament vice-president German centre-right Rainer Wieland, who heads transparency issues in the assembly, told this website.

MEPs in the working group are pressing for the second option.

Tuesday’s decision was at the working group level and still needs to go to a vote in the parliament’s constitutional affairs committee on 18 March. A plenary vote is due before the May EU elections.

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