Wednesday

1st Apr 2020

EU commission: Transparency is not a panacea

  • The European Commission wants a mandatory register of lobbyists for all the EU institutions (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The EU should scrutinise contacts between decision makers and interest groups more closely, the European Commission's vice-president said on Monday (2 May).

“Transparency is one of few tools we have to reconnect with citizens who are sceptical of our legislature,” Frans Timmermans said at a conference in the European Parliament on reform of the EU lobbying register.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Timmermans: "Transparency is one of few tools we have to reconnect with citizens" (Photo: European Commission)

The commission wants to revamp the current register, which is based on voluntary enrolment and does not extend to the EU Council, the institution representing member states. Until now, only the commission and the parliament take part in the register.

But transparency is not a panacea, the commissioner later added, as other speakers agreed with the commission's approach but raised questions on how to make such a scheme workable.

Register roadmap

Andreas Pavlou, from the civil society group coalition Alter-EU, said the current register gave too much leeway to companies who fill it with outdated information.

“Interest groups only have to update their entries once a year and can choose the moment to do so," he said. They should explain more clearly who they are lobbying for and on what issues, he added.

There are big differences in the way interest groups fill in their sheets.

Corporate Europe Observatory, a lobbying watchdog that attended the conference, lists every campaign it has tried to influence.

Businesseurope, the trade federation, indicates that it covers “all topics that matter to European companies” and suggests visiting its website for more information on current lobby priorities.

Others are more minimalist, like the newest entrant, consulting firm Wey-J Conseil, which claims to have neither clients nor income.

Luc Hendrickx, of the small business association UEAPME, said he could not see the added value of the information currently provided on the website.

The lobby register, which lists 9,000 entities, is managed by a secretariat employing three full-time staff and one part-time worker.

Its coordinator, Martin Kroege, admitted that the staff did not have the time to go through all entries, even when the information was clearly wrong. But he said he was not at the conference “to lobby for additional resources”.

Timmermans invited participants to contribute to the consultation that closes on 1 June.

According to German Green MEP Sven Giegold, the European Parliament's rapporteur on transparency, the EU is better at regulating lobbying than most of its member states.

"But all the best regulations are found outside of Europe, in Canada and the US," he said.

He added that the situation was quite depressing.

TTIP transparency

The event was held hours after Greenpeace disclosed documents on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations.

Critics say the free-trade agreement may undermine labour, environment and health standards. They do not like the way it is being negotiated behind closed doors.

Timmermans said the leak only confirmed that the EU was already transparent enough and communicated its position without the need to release negotiation documents.

“Give me three examples [of positions] that were not already revealed by the European side,” he said to the audience.

Still, international negotiations cannot proceed by way of leaks, the commissioner argued.

“I hope we can convince others that we are not hiding anything from the European public,” he said.

Sven Giegold replied that there was a “big added value” from the revelations.

“We can now speak about the documents in public without listening to people who are making presumptions, some of which are wrong and others right,” he said.

“This transparency is needed in future TTIP negotiations.”

EU Council is 'black hole' in public trust

The EU Council, its most powerful institution, is a “black hole” unto the general public, hampering efforts to regain trust, a leading NGO has said.

EU commission presents 'realistic' lobbying rules

The EU executive called for more stringent regulation of interest representatives trying to influence EU decision making. Critics say the 'transparency revolution' is being blocked by the European Parliament and EU member states.

Transparency is key EU tactic in Brexit talks

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said his mandate and all EU commission working documents will be made public during the negotiations. Tactic or policy shift? This time, the EU is interested in transparency.

News in Brief

  1. Danish conservatives want Orban party kicked out of EPP
  2. Dutch finance minister repents on virus help
  3. France to house domestic violence victims in hotels
  4. Europe sends medical goods to Iran, despite US embargo
  5. Commission sets consultation on raising 2030 climate target
  6. 12-year old Belgian girl dies of coronavirus
  7. EU commission: no 'indefinite' emergency measures
  8. Denmark plans 'gradual' return to normal after Easter

Column

Trying to think straight about coronavirus

Clear-headed thinking becomes nearly impossible under this relentless barrage of bad news and apocalyptic analysis, Ferraris writes - a state of mind he describes as "cogito interruptus".

Analysis

Italy and Spain: worst - or just first?

Italy and Spain, the most-affected countries in the EU, have tightened their response to the coronavirus outbreak - as the pair together now account for more than half of the world's death toll.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. Without European patriotism, EU decline is inevitable
  2. EU cancels April Fool's 'fake news'
  3. A coronavirus 'Marshall Plan' alone won't be nearly enough
  4. Trying to think straight about coronavirus
  5. Berlin ready to airlift Greek island refugees
  6. Von der Leyen criticises Hungary, but fails to mention it
  7. Air pollution drops in Europe, but how long will it last?
  8. Human rights abusers don't stop for virus, MEPs tell EU

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us