Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

Lobby register transparency talks collapse

  • A mandatory joint-transparency register is now unlikely (Photo: Daniel Huizinga)

Two years of talks to create a mandatory register of lobbyists shared among all three EU institutions have collapsed.

The divergent positions at the European Parliament, the Council, representing member states, and the European Commission remained entrenched. And with time running out ahead of the EU elections in May, efforts to set up meetings between the three to reach a compromise have also failed.

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Polish centre-right MEP Danuta Hubner and French socialist Sylvie Guillaume, the two European Parliament lead negotiators on the file, blamed the commission for the stalemate.

In an email sent on Friday (5 April) and seen by this website, the two MEPs say the commission is refusing to meet during the last plenary session in the hope of wrapping up negotiations.

"In view of the persistent refusal by the commission to address the outstanding issues at political level, we regret that our aims of having the council join an enhanced Transparency Register and of making the EU institutions even more transparent and accountable to EU citizens appear not be achievable before the European elections in May," they wrote.

The next European parliament and European commission are not obliged to continue the talks.

The EU's joint-transparency register lists thousands of lobbyists, which allows the public and journalists to better understand the intricacies of influence when it comes to EU lawmaking.

The commission already requires its commissioners and other senior commission officials to only meet lobbyists who are in the register. Those meetings are then published on its website for all to see.

But the European parliament and the council have their own specific reservations.

The council says it cannot force member state embassies to the European Union, known as permanent representations, to participate since they are not EU institutions.

Instead, it proposes participation should be limited to the rotating EU presidencies.

Meanwhile, the European parliament argues a mandatory register violates an MEP's "freedom of mandate".

The mandate says an MEP should vote on an individual and personal basis and not be bound by any instructions.

Concessions

The parliament recently made a hard-fought concession.

Via a secret plenary vote earlier this year, MEPs agreed to require committee chairs and others who draft European parliament position reports to publish their meetings with lobbyists online.

The biggest resistance came from the centre-right EPP party, whose party chief Manfred Weber is hoping to become the next president of the European commission. He too voted against.

The task to come up with a plan on how to have the meetings with lobbyists published was handed over to the Bureau, which is in charge of parliament's internal procedures.

But nothing has moved since the secret vote took place in January.

The Bureau is still debating the issue, with critics hoping to delay the limited publication requirement until 2020.

'Not on the register, no meeting with decision-makers'

Meanwhile, the commission is insisting that the other two institutions first agree to a principle that no meetings can take place with lobbyists if they are not first registered.

Frans Timmermans, the European commission vice-president, says a political meeting to tease out an agreement is not possible until the technical details are first sorted.

"Ultimately, progress will depend on all three institutions accepting 'not on the register, no meeting with decision-makers' principle in a meaningful way," he wrote in a letter earlier this week and seen by this website.

The commission's refusal to budge has raised eyebrows.

Vitor Teixeira, a policy officer at the Transparency International EU office in Brussels, said compromises must be made or the deal as it stands will fall apart.

"The Juncker Commission put reform of the lobby register as one of its priorities for its five year mandate and to backtrack on that now would send a disastrous signal to citizens before what are set to be pivotal elections in May," said Teixeira, in an emailed statement.

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