Majority of Brussels lobby firms avoid registry
Over 60 percent of Brussels-based lobbying consultancies have yet to sign up to the European Commission's lobby register, almost two years after it was first launched.
According to a fresh survey of the commission's initiative by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (Alter-EU) to be published on Thursday (11 March), of the 286 lobbying consultancies known to provide such services in the European capital, only 112, or 39.2 percent have signed up to the registry.
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Frustrated with the various definitions of who is and who is not a lobbyist, Alter-EU restricted themselves to investigating just those firms which are explicitly lobbyist outfits, excluding from their survey trade associations, think tanks, law firms and individuals.
Among their number, which range from big multinational players down to the more boutique-type outfits, are Grayling, the Brunswick Group, Cabinet DN and FD Blueprint.
These consultancies mainly work on behalf of other large firms and industry umbrella groups, promoting such parties' interests in EU policy making.
At the same time, of the 174 consultancies missing from the commission's register, 104 do have lobbyists accredited at the European Parliament, meaning that their staff have access badges to the parliament buildings.
Companies have no shortage of tricks to pursue their clients' interests in the EU capital while avoiding the spotlight. "You can hire a PR firm, which in turn hires a law firm to do the work in Brussels and you stay off the radar," one executive at a leading Brussels-based PR firm said.
Erik Wesselius, a spokesman for the pro-transparency NGO - which itself lobbies, but on the issue of lobbying itself - said: "[These] lobby firms active in Brussels do not bother to register and are not transparent about their lobbying activities.
"Genuine transparency can only be secured when registration becomes de facto mandatory, by linking physical access to disclosure requirements."
The commission's register is voluntary, although the European Parliament passed a resolution in May 2008 that called for a mandatory register of all actors lobbying the EU institutions.
A commission-parliament committee working to construct a joint register for the two institutions is expected to resume talks later this month.
In a recent newspaper opinion piece, British Liberal MEP Diane Wallis, who has been actively involved with the register process, suggested MEPs should politely decline meeting lobbyists who do not register.
Alter-EU has sent copies of the survey to commissioner Maros Sefcovic, responsible for the European transparency initiative, and MEPs working on a common lobby transparency register for the European Commission and the European Parliament.