24th Mar 2018

MEPs agree crackdown on lobbying

Transparency and integrity at the European Parliament took a small step forward on Tuesday (13 December), after MEPs voted for a proposal banning them from taking up side jobs as paid lobbyists.

The vote was part of a broader move to amend the parliament's internal rule book, the rules of procedure.

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  • British Labour MEP Richard Corbett was responsible for five reforms of the parliament's rule book. (Photo: Richard Corbett)

While a total ban on side jobs was deemed as too wide-reaching to be included in the overhaul, European lawmakers will also have to declare more clearly their incomes from second jobs.

According to Integrity Watch, 170 MEPs have at least one second job. It's not known how many work as lobbyists.

MEPs also passed a proposal allowing them to meet only those lobbyists who are enrolled on the EU transparency register, and backed a plan under which lobbyists who refuse to accept invitations to hearings before the European Parliament will lose their entrance badges.

They furthermore decided that the parliament's ethics committee should answer to the bureau - a governing body made up of some 20 senior MEPs - rather than only the parliament's president, which is currently the case.

The change will make it more difficult for a president to block the panel's work. The current president, Martin Schulz, has during his five years in office not followed up on any of the cases raised by the panel.

But a proposal to prevent MEPs from passing through the revolving door to become lobbyists after their term in office was removed from the voting list a day before the vote.

Antonio Tajani, a vice-president of the European Parliament, explained to MEPs that the proposal was removed after an intervention by Schulz.

"This internal regulation cannot be used to regulate the lives of former members, and thus we have the decision of the president," Tajani told the plenary just before the vote.

'Evolution' of the rules

MEPs also refused to publish a "legislative footprint", which would lay down the influence of lobbyists on their legislative work.

British centre-left MEP Richard Corbett led the overhaul of the rules of procedure. He told a news conference after the vote that he had aimed to get compromise where possible.

"The package covered everything it was possible to agree on with a necessary absolute majority, which was needed for the report to pass," Corbett said.

"Some of the attempts to increase transparency were also falling outside the scope of this report."

It was the fifth time Corbett, who has been a member of the European Parliament since 1996, had taken responsibility for reforming the parliament's rule book.

"It's an evolution," he said.

The report also aimed to make parliament's procedures easier and more efficient.

MEPs voted to replace 27 different voting thresholds with just three, and raised the bar for requesting split and separate votes.

They put a cap on the number of written questions an MEP can table to the other EU institutions and abolished written declarations as a parliamentary tool.

Smaller factions upset

The changes were criticised by the left-wing GUE/NGL and eurosceptic EFDD group, which said the rules were struck against the interests of the parliament's smaller factions.

"The complexity of the European Parliament is challenged. The rules of procedure must also allow for the critical voices in this house to be heard," Helmut Scholz, the GUE/NGL shadow rapporteur, told EUobserver before the vote.

EFDD shadow rapporteur Isabella Adinolfi said in a written statement that the changes were "the result of an opaque process dominated by the grand coalition between the centre-right and centre-left", and said smaller political groups had been "constantly ignored".

Corbett rejected the criticism, saying the changes actually strengthened the role of smaller groups.

Ethics drive at EU parliament hits a wall

Plans to increase transparency at the European Parliament have been postponed, in a move likely to result in weaker proposals when it goes to a vote.

MEPs propose partial ban on second jobs

MEPs are pushing to increase EU parliament scrutiny over EU commissioners and conflict of interest but fell short of proposing a general ban on deputies holding second jobs.


Are MEPs too 'free' to be accountable?

The European Parliament is currently fine-tuning its negotiating position on the Commission's proposal from September 2016 for a mandatory transparency register. Sadly, so far it seems to prefer empty statements to bold action.


Who to blame when you can't blame Brussels?

Lawyers at the European Parliament and the Council of the EU are finding ways to work around renewed transparency initiatives. The lack of leadership and political will makes the task for greater transparency even more difficult.

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