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16th Oct 2021

EU transparency register nears 6,000 entrants

  • Top US law firms in Brussels are missing from the EU transparency register (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The EU joint transparency register is soon to hit 6,000 entrants, although some of the most powerful and lobby-intensive US law firms are still missing.

The European Commission and the European Parliament, who jointly maintain the voluntary register, said on Friday (29 November) in an annual report that the number of new entrants has increased by 10 percent since last year.

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But US-law firms with offices in Brussels, such as Covington & Burling and Baker Botts, are still missing.

Both firms were the subject of an in-depth lobbying report in Brussels by the International New York Times in October.

The newspaper said the two firms, along with a dozen other major international law firms in Brussels, are lobbying in ways that would be unacceptable in the US.

Unlike in the EU, signing up to the transparency register in the US is mandatory although rules on who signs up differ.

"The US register is signed by individuals, the EU register by organisations," said a European commission spokesperson.

He noted that the EU register averages around 5 individuals for each organisation for a total of 30,000 individuals. The US, in comparison, has around 8,500 individuals signed up.

The firms are also able to exploit connections with top EU officials because of weak ethic rules. This sees large firms hire EU officials so that they can influence former colleagues.

The European Commission, for its part, has a set of rules to prevent its people from being hired directly into lobbying positions on policy areas they worked on but pro-transparency NGOs say it is too weak and not enforced.

Covington & Burling, based in Washington, provides lobbying services in Brussels for some of the world’s largest energy industries like Chevron and Statoil.

Antitrust and competition lawyers at Baker Botts, which recently opened an office in Brussels, is known to lobby heavily on the EU and US trade pacts under negotiations.

Pro-transparency NGOs estimate there are around 20,000 lobbyists in Brussels.

Banks, major pharmaceutical firms and retail companies are among those not on the register.

German centre-right MEP Rainer Wieland described the latest annual report as a step in the right direction in “providing a level playing field for all types of actors.”

Wieland chairs the high level group reviewing the EU Transparency Register.

But he is also a partner in the law firm Theumer, Wieland & Weisenburger, which has an office in Stuttgart and in Brussels.

Theumer, Wieland & Weisenburger is not listed in the EU transparency register.

Its website says it advices clients in the fields of civil law, in particular commercial law and labour law, criminal law and regulatory offenses, constitutional and administrative law, including European law.

Wieland is their resident expert on European and family law.

His office told this website that Wieland's law firm is a traditional law firm that represents clients in courts and does not need to be in the register. They say it does not engage in any lobbying in Stuttgart or in Brussels.

“This is a classic conflict of interest. It's hard to imagine that this man is neutral,” Olivier Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory, a pro-transparency NGO, told German weekly magazine Der Spiegel.

This article was amended at 12.15 to reflect the differences between the EU and US registers and why Wieland's law firm is not in the EU register

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