Friday

14th May 2021

Opinion

Have some faith in our politicians

It is no secret that there is a big divide between EU decision-makers and the public.

This divide risks widening further by misinformed theories on how powerful lobbyists have replaced elected politicians in deciding EU policies and legislations. Even more so, when decision-makers themselves contribute to such conspiracies.

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  • The fourth stakeholder meeting on the review of the EU's transparency register to be held at the European Parliament (Photo: European Parliament)

Lobbying is often portrayed, not least by the media, as witchcraft whereby minds are twisted to promote the interests of great multinational corporations.

In reality, lobbying is nothing else than the presentation of facts and arguments. It is done by companies, by NGOs, by consumer groups, by unions and a large number of other interest groups.

And yes, often the objective is to influence policy and legislation. However, I would argue that our democracy improves when those affected by policies participate in the debate.

When done ethically, lobbying allows MEPs and other policy makers to make better informed decisions, protects from erroneous decisions and enables the legislative process to become more effective.

Demonising the lobbying process risks delegitimizing the European institutions and adding to the concern for a democratic deficit.

Most decision-makers in Brussels are passionate about the values that the EU upholds and work to improve our society.

They try their best to come up with policies that make Europe a better place. They welcome input from outside expertise and are capable of collecting information, facts and arguments from a variety of sources and make their own assessments. I think it is time that we show a little more faith in our politicians.

Unfortunately, there are people in Brussels who claim to be lobbyists without following the rules that most of us abide by. No one is helped by “rogue lobbyists”. We therefore welcome a serious debate on lobbyists’ role in the EU democracy.

EPACA members have committed themselves to maintain the highest standards of integrity and contribute to create a Europe, which is free, open and understanding. We follow a strict Code of Conduct and have an independent board to review complaints received about our members.

EPACA aspires to be a beacon of excellence and a source of inspiration and information in the drive towards greater transparency and a more ethical, open approach to political decision-making.

Review of the EU Transparency register

An important contributor to the credibility of EPACA is our ambition to legitimise and regulate our industry.

We have proposed a variety of solutions to strengthen the EU Transparency register, such as making it mandatory. EPACA will repeat its positions at the fourth stakeholder meeting on the review of the register on 15 October at the European Parliament.

We think that the register works reasonably well. The fact that nearly 6,000 organisations have signed up to a voluntary register is a success in itself.

However, there is still much room for improvement.

EPACA would like to see the institutions further incentivise registration, for the rules to be enforced more effectively, and for the information in the register to be questioned more thoroughly.

We would also like to see the Commission and Parliament more active in promoting the register in EU member states.

There are ongoing discussions and even legislative processes in several countries. We believe that the EU Transparency register should be a model for member states to base their domestic rules and regulations.

To ensure a level-playing field among different interests, EPACA welcomes steps to make the register mandatory. However, we understand that a mandatory register would require many more resources from the institutions and much discussion on the regulatory details for a registration requirement.

Through this stakeholder dialogue and a wider discussion on ethical lobbying, EPACA hopes to demonstrate that European policy is created by clear and honest regulative processes.

The upcoming European Parliament elections will provoke much debate on the democratic role of the institutions.

Increased transparency and better regulated lobbying demonstrates to the public that EU decision-making can be trusted. Maintaining these high standards is essential for the EU to close the divide between the European institutions and society.

The writer is Chairman of the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA) and Managing Partner, Kreab Gavin Anderson

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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