27th Oct 2016

Pro-transparency groups irked by UK commissioner's lobbyist ties

Transparency groups are urging Jean-Claude Juncker to reject Britain’s EU commission-designate Jonathan Hopkin Hill over his ties to lobbying and lobbyists in Brussels.

The British conservative nominee was introduced to Juncker, the next EU commission president, by prime minister David Cameron in Brussels early Thursday (17 July).

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Cameron wants to secure Hill a top economic portfolio in the new commission but Hill, who is a former lobbyist, is attracting criticism from pro-transparency groups and some MEPs. They have highlighted his extensive ties to major PR firms in London and in Brussels.

On Wednesday, UK media reported he had sold off large shares of Huntsworth plc, an international lobbying firm.

“Belatedly selling his lobby shares is not enough; ex-business lobbyists should have no place in a Juncker commission committed to cleaning up lobbying,” said the Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory.

Huntsworth owns Grayling, one of the more influential consultancy companies in Brussels.

Hill also co-founded Quiller Consultants in 1998 before landing a junior ministerial post at the UK government in 2010. Huntsworth bought out Quiller for almost €7.5 million in 2006.

His nomination may be a test for Juncker’s promise for more transparency on corporate-led lobbying at the institutions.

At a speech delivered at the Strasbourg-plenary on Tuesday, Juncker said he would propose a mandatory lobby register covering all three institutions.

“Our citizens have the right to know with whom commissioners and commission staff, members of the European Parliament or representatives of the council meet in the context of the legislative process,” said the former Luxembourg prime minister.

This represents a change from the outgoing commission, which has been reluctant to make the register outright mandatory.

At the moment, the EU transparency register is voluntary and covers the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Of the 6,000 or so entities in the register, only around 2,800 are said to be in Brussels.

Critics say the database is out-of-date and riddled with incorrect information.

They also note that law firms, unless they engage in “interest representation”, are not required to sign the register.

MEPs had earlier this year requested the commission bring forward a proposal to make the joint-register mandatory by 2016.

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