22nd Jan 2020

Top EU institutions to use joint lobbyist register

  • To win access to the parliament, lobbyists will have to sign up to the registry (Photo: EUobserver)

The curtain behind which lobbyists hide in the European capital was drawn back a little more on Wednesday (11 May) after the European Parliament backed a joint register of lobbyists for both the chamber and the European Commission.

Until now the, two institutions had separate listings of the lobbyists who approach deputies and officials attempting to bend legislation, registries which have suffered from widespread criticism from democracy campaigners for the questionable accuracy of the information contained within them and for the voluntary nature of the disclosure process.

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With the new ‘one-stop shop' lobby register - or ‘transparency register' as it will now be called - the rules have been tightened and fresh staff have been assigned to monitor foul play.

Signing up to the registry however remains voluntary as before - perhaps the main beef transparency campaigners have had with the process, who say that many of the estimated 15-20,000 lobbyists resident in Brussels have yet to sign the existing listing.

But in what both MEPs and campaigners called a "step forward", lobbyists will for the first time have an incentive to sign up, as those who do not will not be awarded an access badge to the parliament's buildings.

The parliament has also endorsed a process whereby leading MEPs must list all the meetings they have with lobbyists in what they are calling a "legislative footprint annex".

There are also new procedures for complaints and sanctions, facets missing from the previous lobby registries.

The chamber's chief, President Jerzy Buzek, welcomed the advance: "We need advocacy and lobby groups for knowing what impact our legislation might have on different groups of people and companies, but we must make sure that nobody influences decisions through illicit means."

MEPs also called on the EU's Council of Ministers, the third of the bloc's triumvirate of institutions and representing the member states, to join the joint registry. The Council has consistently refused to involve itself in transparency initiatives, although it has indicated moves to do so in the future.

Campaigners welcomed the development but said they were "disappointed" that there was no majority in the house to support tougher financial reporting in the register.

"The recent cash-for-amendments scandal highlighted that a softly-softly approach towards EU lobbying transparency does not work," said paul de Clerck of Alter-EU, a transparency pressure group.

Without tougher reporting standards, the group said, companies and lobby groups would continue to low-ball the estimates of the money they spend on influencing the legislative system. They gave the example of Colipa, the cosmetics industry lobby outfit, which reported that they spent just €50,000 in 2008, yet they maintain a staff of 20 lobbyists and support workers in Brussels.

BusinessEurope, the association representing the interests of the biggest industries in Europe and perhaps the most influential corporate lobbying group in the city, recorded that it spent between €550,000 and €600,000, a figure Alter-EU says is also unrealistically low.

The new-model joint registry is also designed to encourage groups such as churches and think-tanks who do not consider themselves to be 'lobbyists' sensu stricto to sign up.


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