Saturday

4th Jul 2020

EU transparency on lobbyist meetings still piecemeal

  • The Council, representing member states, is the least transparent among the EU institutions (Photo: Council of the EU)

A trend is emerging where EU institutional meetings with lobbyists are being published online - as part of a piecemeal approach to greater transparency.

Earlier this week, the Croatian presidency to the EU started posting notices of its meetings. So have the Finnish and the Romanian presidencies before it.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

And a handful of member states embassies to the EU (known as a permanent representations) are now listing their lobby meetings online as well. So far this includes Croatia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and Italy.

The move has only been cautiously welcomed by pro-transparency groups, because the information revealed is often sparse.

For one, the embassy meetings are only listed if they are held with senior staff, such as the ambassador or the deputy. Second, details on what the meeting was even about are often lacking.

And third, most of the lobbyists are in fact targeting low-level policy-makers whose meetings are not even registered.

"This is really the tip of the iceberg," said Vicky Cann from the Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), an NGO working on transparency issues.

She pointed out that some policy officers at the embassies can get multiple meeting requests per week from lobbyists, depending on the topic.

Last year, CEO revealed that in the 12 months up to June 2018, the Dutch permanent representation hosted 546 meetings, of which 73 percent were determined to be corporate lobbyists.

Impenetrable Council

However, some smaller EU member states are piling on pressure to increase transparency and accountability in the EU.

In January, a letter drafted by Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Sweden and the Netherlands demanded greater openness when it comes to the EU's most impenetrable institution, the Council.

The council represents member states and is the co-legislator, along with the European Parliament, on EU laws proposed by the European Commission.

But its working groups, where EU state representatives discuss bills that will become EU-wide law, remain widely in the shadows. Big EU states like France appear broadly opposed to transparency, fearing it could disrupt negotiations among sparring counterparts and remove the space to forge compromises.

Critics say such a position is widely at odds with French president Emmanuel Macron's call for "a more democratic Europe."

A document obtained by Investigative Europe, a team of journalists, further exposes the true positions of EU states when it comes to legislative transparency.

Although dated July 2018, the paper shows France, Hungary, Greece, Poland and to some extent, Portugal and the Czech Republic, oppose it. Germany seems more ambivalent.

The council has also so far baulked at signing up to the EU's joint-transparency register, currently shared between the commission and the parliament. The register is a searchable database that lists thousands of lobbyists seeking to exert some say on EU policy.

The commission requires 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.

Vague 'courtesy' meetings

The council says it cannot force member state embassies to participate since they are not EU institutions - although now some are doing it anyway. The parliament also has its reservations, claiming a mandatory register violates an MEP's "freedom of mandate".

A number of MEPs have also sought to make it a requirement to publish their own meetings with lobbyists. But the proposal was watered down following stiff resistance from the centre-right European Peoples' Party group.

It means only committee chairs and people who lead files on the behalf of the parliament, so-called 'rapporteurs', list their lobbyist meetings.

There are also shortcomings. Labelling a meeting "courtesy" or using other broad terminology like "banking issues" is often not helpful for people seeking greater insights into those they voted into office.

Lobby register transparency talks collapse

Efforts to set up a better transparency register for lobbyists have collapsed after two years of talks. The impasse revolves around the European Commission's insistence that the register also become mandatory for the European Parliament and Council.

EU parliament chairs explain missing lobbyist meetings

MEPs in January 2019 agreed to a rule change in a bid for greater transparency. The rules included requiring committee chairs to publish their meetings with registered lobbyists. EUobserver spoke to six chairs, who haven't done so yet.

Feature

How corporate lobbyists steer EU law-making

Former EUobserver investigations editor Peter Teffer has written a new book about how lobbying in the EU works. The EU's focus on the internal market offers corporate lobbyists a perfect means to forward their interests.

News in Brief

  1. EU grants Remdesivir conditional authorisation
  2. French prime minister and government resign
  3. France lied on Nato naval clash, Turkey claims
  4. EU highlights abuses in recent Russia vote
  5. Belgium bids to host EU mask stockpile
  6. France shamed on refugees by European court
  7. French and Dutch police take down criminal phone network
  8. EU launches infringement case on Covid-19 cancelled trips

MEP in police protection after Czech PM calls him 'traitor'

Three MEPs received numerous death threats in the Czech Republic for asking questions about how EU funds are being spent. One of them had his entire family under police protection after people threatened to murder his four children.

Black MEP: 'I have been a victim of police violence'

MEPs urged an end to structural racism and discrimination in Europe and the US, following the brutal killing of black American George Floyd by US police. Socialists and Green MEPs stressed the need to unblock the anti-discrimination directive.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us