Monday

22nd Jan 2018

EU to 'extend' lobbyist register

  • Information to be policed by Secretariat, with enough staff for 'proper' investigations (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Member states have agreed to join an EU lobbyist register, but only for top-tier officials.

The "mandatory" register is to cover a broad range of "interest representatives", including lobby firms, law firms, and NGOs in the EU capital, according to terms agreed by member states' ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday (6 December).

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  • Transparency increase EU 'legitimacy' Maasikas said (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

They will have to publish details of clients and fees in return for access to "senior staff" in the EU Council, where member states meet, in the European Commission, and in the European Parliament.

The information will be policed by a new secretariat, with enough staff to do "proper" investigations and with the authority to inspect documents.

Cheaters could see individual staff banned for up to a year or for the whole company to be kicked off the register for up to two years.

Matti Maasikas, the deputy EU affairs minister of Estonia, which holds the EU presidency, said on Wednesday that "increased transparency in EU decision-making is a must if we want to remain credible to our citizens. It increases the legitimacy of our decisions".

"Our mandate will allow for meaningful participation of the council in the new transparency register and will ensure that it is more effective and inclusive," he said.

The proposed definition of "senior staff" means that only meetings with the council's secretary general and with the directors general of the council's internal bureaucracy will be covered, however.

Estonia said meetings between lobbyists and member states' envoys in EU embassies were to remain "the sole responsibility of the member state concerned".

But for Sven Giegold, a German Green MEP who deals with transparency, that meant Wednesday's agreement was little more than "empty packaging".

Giegold noted that it was member states' envoys, not council officials, who actually shaped EU legislation.

"These [officials] are not the ones to negotiate and decide EU laws. The council needs to make meetings conditional upon registration for those who negotiate and decide EU laws," he said.

Positive experience

The council proposal was based on an existing commission and parliament "transparency register" that dates back to 2014.

Wednesday's agreement said this should be "extended in an appropriate way to the council" due to "the positive experience" of the current measures.

The secretariat with the investigative powers comes after years in which the existing register was bedevilled by misleading information.

In a recent case, US firm Monsanto, which makes the controversial weedkiller Roundup, under-reported its EU lobbying by at least €500,000.

The new regime is to force lobby firms to declare all clients, intermediaries, and their intermediaries' clients whose fees amount to €10,000 or more each year.

It covers law firms, but only when they do lobbying, not when they represent a client in legal proceedings.

It also excludes political parties and "churches and religious associations or communities as well as philosophical and non- confessional organisations".

Opportunity

The member states' proposal sounded a positive note on getting input into EU law-making.

"Engaging with stakeholders enhances the quality of decision-making by providing channels for the input of external views and expertise," it said.

Council, commission, and parliament officials will now hold talks on the final model for the project, in what Giegold called "a great opportunity for coherent lobby transparency of all EU institutions".

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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