Tuesday

25th Sep 2018

Opinion

'Inside EU knowledge' - an affront to transparency

  • Seap - it's now what you do, it's the way that you do it (Photo: EUobserver)

EUobserver has reported that up to 70 percent of the time spent by public affairs companies is on the monitoring of EU issues and that sometimes lobby firms represent questionable interests.

The Society of European Affairs Professionals, Seap, established in 1997, is the recognised organisation of lobbyists operating in trade associations, corporations, consultancies and representative bodies in Brussels. SEAP encourages the highest standards of professionalism for European affairs activity and promotes self-regulation of the profession.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

As its vice-president, I take issue with one of the central tenets of the EUobserver article, which seems to suggest there is something wrong in wheedling out information from the EU institutions. There isn't so long as it's done properly. The article's headline on "inside knowledge" worries me.

European affairs professionals are a vital part of the democratic process, acting as a link between on the one hand business and civil society, and on the other, European policy makers. It is their role to find out what's going on in the minds of policy makers, to analyse, assess implication and then to react.

That process of information gathering has to be done correctly. This is why Seap members adhere to an ethical code, a code which covers both transparency and conduct. The code goes far beyond the Joint European Commission/European Parliament register code.

A comparison shows the Seap code mirrors the EU code's nine articles and adds a further seven.

While both codes require transparency, Seap's seeks to define how you act upon it. It says members must be "be open and transparent in declaring their name, organisation or company and the interest they represent."

Moreover - and crucially - it requires honesty. It says they must "neither intentionally misrepresent their status nor the nature of their inquiries to the EU institutions nor create any false impression in relation thereto."

Seap members are also required to "act with honesty and integrity at all times" - a relatively broad demand.

But the code is not just about acting perfectly. It recognises the way things are. It recognises, as does the EUobserver article, that information may be given in confidence in advance of a more public release.

Again, I contend that this is in the public interest, as often officials want to test ideas with those likely to be affected by them before speaking out to the world or indeed the media.

For the most part, the typical commission official and, certainly, the typical MEP is a generalist. The specialist expertise lies elsewhere in the industry or interested sector to be affected by the policy. The early testing of ideas with experts is wise.

How the lobbyists deal with that insider info is key.

And it is covered by article four of our code. The member must "honour confidential information and embargoes and always abide by the rules and conventions for the obtaining, distribution and release of all EU documentation."

And of course, the lobbyist must recognise that this information per se is not to be inappropriately exploited. They must "not sell for profit to third parties copies of documents obtained from the EU institutions."

The lobbyists may sell his analysis of that information and what flows from there, but not the actual document itself.

EUobserver rightly raised the issue of conflicts of interest. These can be real and should always be addressed. Seap's code advocates first the avoidance of conflicts, then their disclosure and - all importantly - their swift resolution.

How one deals with a conflict is the real test.

Any code, even one as robust as Seap's, is only as good as the extent to which it is complied with. Like any good code-owner, Seap operates a compliance and complaints procedure, with the sanction of expulsion for serious breaches.

EU officials are public servants. Their information gathering and release is a public duty. The duty befalling all of us is to access that information, inform those affected, and, if it's a really bad idea, do something about it.

"Inside EU knowledge” is uncomfortably close to public sector secrecy. For the most part that is best avoided.

The writer is vice-president of the Brussels-based Seap group

No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected

Following the 2030 renewable target of 32 percent, chair of the European Parliament's environment committee Adina Valean argues in order to reach our climate and energy goals, we need both public and private investment over the next decade and beyond.

News in Brief

  1. Greek reporters arrested after story on 'mishandled' EU funds
  2. Austrian minister urges police to out foreign sex offenders
  3. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group
  4. Half of EU states at risk of missing recycling target
  5. Commission refers Poland to EU top court over rule of law
  6. Open Society Foundation takes Hungary to court
  7. EU court asked to rule on halting Brexit
  8. EU threatens Switzerland on stock trading

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  2. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  3. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  4. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  5. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  6. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  7. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  8. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us