Wednesday

22nd May 2019

One-year-old lobby registry 'as useful as a phonebook without numbers'

  • Transparency campaigners want lobbyists to come out of the shadows (Photo: EUobserver)

A year after the birth of the European Commission's much-trumpeted register of Brussels lobbyists, a review of the process by transparency campaigner has found that less than a quarter of lobbyists in the EU capital have actually signed up.

The commission launched the register last June. As of 25 May this year, 1488 organisations had signed up. The EU executive has repeatedly cheered the 'success' of the registry, but a detailed analysis by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (Alter-EU) reveals that just 593 actually had offices in the European capital.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Of the 2,600 lobbying entities that operate in Brussels according to a 2003 European Parliament estimate, this equates to just 22.8 percent.

The review used Brussels as a measure because any serious outfit determined to lobby on European legislation will have offices in the city.

Additionally, some categories of lobbyists - notably law firms and think-tanks - are effectively boycotting the register entirely.

"This means that a large share of the Brussels lobbying is basically invisible," said Olivier Hoederman, of Alter-EU and Corporate Europe Observatory, an Amsterdam-based transparency NGO.

Many of the major lobby firms, corporations and industry lobby groups are still missing from the register, Alter-EU says. Smaller outfits are signing up, but not the major-league players.

"The registry is a net that catches the little fish and lets the big fish go," Jorgo Riss of Alter-EU and Greenpeace, a key organisation within the coalition, told reporters in Brussels on Thursday (4 June).

Inflated sign-up figures

Compounding the situation, what data is provided in the registry is utterly unreliable, the group argues, without the names of any individual lobbyists, untrustworthy financial reporting, and register ‘spam' in which groups that have nothing to do with lobbying are erroneously registering and falsely inflating the sign-up figures.

Without names, there is no way of identifying potential conflicts of interest when, in one example the report mentions, commission officials pass through the "revolving door" to lobbying jobs with companies with an interest in legislation or decisions with which they have just months before been involved.

The identities of the clients of lobbying firms "often remain a mystery", accuses the report, and the register gives no information on which issues are being lobbied on.

"It is as useful as a phonebook without any numbers," said Mr Riss.

The financial reporting requirements are particularly lax, according to the review.

In another example, the report notes that the US lobby registry, which is mandatory and has stricter reporting rules, reveals that British Petroleum spent $8 million on lobbying in Washington in 2008. Meanwhile, if the EU registry is to be believed, the same company spent only between €200,000 and €250,000 and yet BP maintains an office on the expensive Rond-Point Schuman - the roundabout at the foot of the headquarters of both the commission and the Council of Ministers.

"Can this really be done for less than €250,000 a year?" asks the report.

Using the data from the registry, the transparency groups compiled a ranking of the 100 biggest spenders.

"One would think that groups such as Business Europe [the trade association for some of Europe's biggest corporations] or Cefic [the European chemical industry association] would be up there in the top five or top ten at least," said Mr Hoedeman.

"In fact, Business Europe comes in at number 32 and Cefic makes lower than the 100th place," he added.

Instead, representatives of small and medium-sized companies tend to top the ranking.

"Are small businesses really the biggest lobby spenders?" the report demands.

Erotic German lobbying

The report highlighted the huge problem of lobby register ‘spam' or clutter of the document by outfits that engage in little or no lobbying at all. The document highlights as examples the German Erotic Trade Association, who apparently spent a grand total of ten euros on lobbying, and the European Surfrider Association, which spent €0 on lobbying.

"There are many tiny, local NGOs in the register, all with EU lobby budgets of zero or next to nothing," the report reads.

These should be excluded from the registry, argues Alter-EU, "since they artificially inflate the total number of lobby registrants."

The group recommends that the registering be changed from a voluntary process to a mandatory one, similar to the lobby registry in the United States. While the commission does not have the power of legal sanction that the American Congress does, refusing to meet with lobbyists that have not registered would de facto deliver an identical obligation, Alter-EU recommends.

Fine-tuning

The commission is to undertake a review of the lobby registry after a year of operation. Administrative affairs spokeswoman, Valerie Rampi, said the commission would not comment on the Alter-EU report findings until this process is completed.

Sector stakeholders have until 15 June to submit comments on the registry to the commission, after which the EU executive will carry out a review of the registry. This is expected to be completed early to mid July.

"There will be no review before the review," she said.

"As to the size [of those registering], it depends what you consider to be large players. Of the 1500, I see quite a lot of big players."

"The commission has always said that it wishes to work on the basis of a voluntary approach, but if this proves to be unsatisfactory or insufficient, it would be quite prepared to bring in a compulsory system," she continued.

"No doubt after a year their will be a need for some fine-tuning."

One commission official told EUobserver: "I don't accept this Brussels-only categorisation - there are companies from outside Belgium engaged in EU lobbying," while conceding: "although it is true that if you are a serious operator you'd have an office here."

"But the real question is: Are the big hitters on the registry, the Burson-Marstellers, the Hill and Knowltons? Yes they are," he said, referring to two lobbying firms.

Analysis

Sibiu: EU leaders prepare post-Brexit show of unity

With the European elections just three weeks away, the EU-27 will try to set the agenda for the next years for the EU institutions. But with persisting divisions on key issues, unity will be an achievement in itself.

Exclusive

Ombudsman backs EUobserver on MEP expenses

The European Parliament should have granted access to documents on a decision about how transparent MEPs should be in future with their office expenses, says EU Ombudsman.

EU want Facebook pan-EU advert fix for May elections

EU institutions want Facebook to relax its rules, to allow pan-European political groups to carry out EU-wide campaigns. Facebook has yet to implement the demands - posing questions on the extent to which Europe relies on the US tech firm.

News in Brief

  1. Poll: Denmark set to double number of liberal MEPs
  2. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  3. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job
  4. May struggling to get Brexit deal passed at fourth vote
  5. German MPs show interest in 'Magnitsky' sanctions
  6. CoE: Rights violations in Hungary 'must be addressed'
  7. EU affairs ministers rubber-stamp new ban on plastics
  8. Private companies campaign to boost turnout in EU poll

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  2. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us