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6th Mar 2021

Toughen rules on lobbying or risk corruption, watchdog warns EU

  • Only seven out of 19 EU countries surveyed have regulation on lobbying (Photo: Worst Lobby Awards)

The EU needs to beef up its regulation of the lobbying industry to curb the risk of corruption, a leading transparency watchdog has warned.

In a report published Wednesday (15 April), Transparency International (TI) urged the EU institutions to establish mandatory registers of lobbyists, recording detailed information on which clients lobbyists represent and who they target.

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They also called for a “legislative footprint” to track how lobbying influences laws and to record contact between lobbyists and public officials.

It says governments should put in place minimum “cooling-off periods” before former politicians and civil servants can work as lobbyists.

“Unfair and opaque lobbying practices are one of the key corruption risks currently facing Europe,” said Elena Panfilova, vice-chair of Transparency International.

“European countries and EU institutions must adopt robust lobbying regulations that cover the broad range of lobbyists who influence – directly or indirectly – any political decisions, policies or legislation,” she noted, adding that “otherwise, the lack of lobby control threatens to undermine democracy across the region.”

The report looks at the lobbying regulation in 19 EU countries, finding that just seven - Austria, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and the United Kingdom - have laws targeting lobbying.

“Even in these countries, regulation is mostly poorly designed or not properly implemented,” said TI in a statement on its website

Slovenia has the most transparent political system, according to the report, with a score of 55 percent. Cyprus and Hungary rank at the bottom with 14 per cent.

 

In total, the 19 countries averaged just 31 points out of 100 when measured against international lobbying standards.

 

The EU institutions fared little better. The European Commission scored 53 points in the report, ahead of the European Parliament with 37 points, and the Council of Ministers with 19.

The report also argues that post-crisis financial sector reform efforts at national and EU levels have been watered down by financial sector lobbying.

It expresses particular concern about lobbying practices in the alcohol, tobacco, automobile, energy and pharmaceutical sectors.

As the powers of the EU institutions have expanded from successive treaty reforms, Brussels has rapidly become the lobbying capital of Europe, with more than 30,000 practitioners operating in the EU capital.

The EU's transparency register was introduced in 2008 and more than 2,800 Brussels lobby groups have signed up, which the Commission believes accounts for around two thirds of the lobbying market.

But it remains voluntary and does not require lobbyists to reveal which laws they are attempting to influence. Nor does it cover the Council of Ministers.

Last December, the commission began a practice requiring commissioners and senior officials to make public their meetings with lobbyists and other pressure groups. However, no watchdog has been tasked with overseeing whether officials comply with the rules.

The report was quickly welcomed by MEPs on a cross-party transparency group in the Parliament.

“The report shows that at the moment it is not possible for the public to know which lobbyists have contributed to EU-legislation,” said Dennis de Jong, who co-chairs the structure.

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