Saturday

1st Oct 2016

Opinion

Self-regulation not an option for EU lobbying

  • EU parliament - under 40 percent of Seap members are part of the voluntary register (Photo: Luc Mercelis)

Two weeks after ex-health-commissioner John Dalli's resignation in what has become known as "Dalligate" - a scandal described by public health campaigners as the biggest interference of the tobacco lobby in European politics to date - Philip Sheppard's plea for self-regulation of the lobbyist profession published on 16 October appears delusional.

Sheppard, vice-president of Seap - one of three lobby groups representing corporate lobbyists active in Brussels (along with Epaca and Ecpa) – worries that the phrase "inside knowledge" in EUobserver's report Multi-million-euro market for inside EU knowledge might give readers the idea that there is something wrong with the lobby industry.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The line between lobbying and undue influence is thin.

The lobbyist at the heart of Dalligate, Silvio Zammit, claims that his practice, although not registered in the Transparency Register of the European Parliament and European Commission, "was above board and regular, in consonance with established practices."

In other words, he is self-regulated.

Self-regulation has not prevented this or other scandals. It harms citizens' trust in public policy-making and is ultimately at the expense of taxpayers.

According to Seap's Sheppard, it is the lobbyist's "role to find out what goes on in the minds of policy-making." There is nothing wrong with this, as long as it is done properly, he says.

He boasts that Seap's code of conduct "goes far beyond" the code of conduct related to the Transparency Register. Lengthy it may be, but how do Seap's recommended practices compare to the Transparency Register's guidelines in terms of financial reporting?

The official guidelines for the register prescribe under "cost estimate" that "outsourced activity costs, consulting fees and subcontracted activities related to activities falling under the scope of the register" must be included.

It also states that "the declaration made in the register by the contract consultant itself does not exempt the entity from including these fees in its own financial declaration."

But Seap's "guidelines for members wishing to register" say that "where registrants pay fees for external services such as EU affairs consultants, legal firms or trade associations these fees should not be included in the registrant's calculations. Seap recommends that registrants request the underlying consultant, legal firm or association they use to make such a declaration."

This recommendation appears to be in direct contradiction with the Transparency Register's guidelines, and could, if practised, cloud the real cost of lobbying.

As the register is voluntary, subcontractors may not register at all. But regardless of this, giving guidelines contrary to the commission's creates a double standard and inconsistency.

Going through Seap's membership and cross-referencing it to the Transparency Register, Alter-EU noticed that only 103 out of 265 Seap members are named in the register. That is less than 40 percent.

It appears that 36 out of 117 organisations that Seap members work for (membership is on a personal basis) are not in the register - just over 30 percent. Three years ago, similar research resulted in a much higher number of organisations connected to Seap: 161 in total.

It seems the base of the Seap membership is narrowing, perhaps an indication that lobbyists themselves disapprove of self-regulation as well.

What is certain, is that many firms - among them organisations which belong to Seap members - have found an effective way of enhancing their access and influence: why not hire a former official?

Alter-EU groups have recently urged the European Ombudsman to probe the commission's laissez-faire handling of what is commonly known as the "revolving door" between the EU institutions and the private sector.

The revolving door enables those that switch sides to take valuable inside knowledge with them - along with their little black book of contacts - and to open many doors that remain closed to other "interest representatives," or citizens for that matter.

An industry as self-interested as the for-profit lobbying industry will do whatever it takes to make profits from whoever is willing to pay them. As EUobserver said: "professional ethics have their limits."

With public policy-making for 500 million Europeans at stake, it is irresponsible for the EU to continue a voluntary and self-regulated approach.

The writer is coalition co-ordinator of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (Alter-EU) in Brussels

Column / Crude World

Why Putin's union doesn't want to work with the EU

The EU should not dismiss institutional cooperation with the Russia-led economic association. But Moscow's previous behaviour with Ukraine and Moldova shows it won't let its neighbours turn too much to the West.

Opinion

Steel overcapacity crisis - from Europe to China

While the debate has escalated about China’s steel overcapacity, it is not exactly new. The first postwar steel crisis occurred in the US and Europe. Beijing seeks to avoid a deja vu of bad policies.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFAEFA Supports a YES Vote in the Hungarian Referendum
  2. ACCAFinTech Boom Needs Strong Guidance to Navigate Regulatory Hurdles
  3. Counter BalanceWhy the Investment Plan for Europe Does not Drive the Sustainable Energy Transition
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region Seeks to Make Its Voice Heard in the World
  5. Taipei EU OfficeCountries Voice Support for Taiwan's Participation in ICAO
  6. World VisionNew Tool Measuring Government Efforts to Protect Children Released
  7. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  8. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement
  9. CISPECloud Infrastructure Providers Unveil Data Protection Code of Conduct
  10. EFAMessages of Hope From the Basque Country and Galicia
  11. Access NowDigital Rights Heroes and Villains. See Who Protects Your Rights, Who Wants to Take Them Away
  12. EJCAppalled by Recommendation to Remove Hamas From EU Terrorism Watch List