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15th Dec 2018

Exclusive

EU parliament to renege on transparency promises

  • Transparency does not sit well with the European parliament's legal service (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament's lawyers have declared that forcing MEPs to meet only registered lobbyists is illegal, according to internal documents seen by EUobserver.

The EP lawyers also say that rules instructing MEPs to voluntarily publish those meetings is "legally incoherent" - contradicting their own previous legal opinion.

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The verdict casts serious doubt on the European Parliament's campaign pledges ahead of the EU elections to bring the institution closer to the people in its declared push for greater democracy and transparency.

It also spells a likely end to broader efforts by the European Commission to set up a mandatory joint-transparency register with the European parliament and the EU Council.

The 16-page document released internally on Tuesday (20 November) and seen by EUobserver said it would be illegal to require European Parliament committee chairs, and MEPs who draft reports, to meet only registered lobbyists.

The parliament has for years publicly stated it wanted a mandatory register for lobbyists. It means MEPs would be restricted to only meet registered lobbyists.

This was then watered down to only committee chairs and people who draft reports, given concerns over an MEP's "freedom of the mandate" - a statute that gives them a wide margin and liberty to work without overt pressure from public scrutiny.

But even this watered-down version has been killed off by the EP lawyers.

It means the status quo, of keeping publication of all meetings with all lobbyists purely voluntary, will remain - in a move widely supported by the European Parliament's biggest political group, the centre-right EPP.

The EPP had only earlier this month in Helsinki announced the need to "increase citizens' trust in our institutions."

The group also proclaimed the need for more transparency and accountability.

Those announcements were packaged to coincide with the launch of Manfred Weber's bid to become the next European Commission president.

Unlike the European Parliament, commissioners are required to meet with only registered lobbyists. Also unlike the parliament, the commissioners are required to publish those meetings.

The commission had pushed to extend those same demands onto both the parliament and the council. Talks have ground to a halt because of the parliament's resistance.

The commission may now have to drop the effort altogether, meaning MEPs will not have to vote on it in the plenary and make their true positions known to the public.

The EPP resistance found allies with the liberal Alde group, while the socialist S&D have historically been more ambivalent.

However, the Greens, the far-left and some far-right MEPs have consistently argued for a mandatory lobby register.

MEPs in the constitutional affairs committee were set to vote on the matter on Wednesday.

But with the legal services declaring the provision illegal, it appears unlikely the vote on the particular measure will go ahead.

In a further twist, the legal services had in 2013 actually recommended that MEPs publish meetings with lobbyists.

Today, the legal services says that too poses a big problem. Both the EPP and Alde have in the past voted against getting MEPs to publish their meetings with lobbyists.

EU court delivers transparency blow on MEP expenses

The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg argued that disclosure of how MEPs use their monthly €4,400 expenses allowance risks violating an MEP's data protection rights. Journalists behind the case will appeal.

Leading MEP defends expenses secrecy

The man tasked with making the EP more transparent has said there are more important issues than making MEP monthly expenses public.

Razor-edge victory for more lobbying transparency at EP

New rules to force MEPs chairing committees or drafting reports to publish meetings with registered lobbyists took a step closer to reality. The measure was narrowly backed 11 to 10 at the constitutional affairs committee but still needs plenary approval.

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