Wednesday

16th Oct 2019

Opinion

Crunch time for EU lobby register

  • Around 6,000 organisations are listed in the EU transparency register (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The EU lobby register is currently being reviewed and transparency campaigners are demanding that MEPs and the European Commission shine a spotlight on Brussels' secret lobbyists.

It's more than two years since the parliament and commission jointly launched the EU Transparency Register. Since then, nearly 6,000 registrants have joined and commissioner Maror Sefcovic, the commissioner responsible, has said : “I believe that our efforts in the area of transparency are at the leading edge of most public bodies in the world”.

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And yet. As research by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) coalition pointed out earlier this year, thousands of organisations remain outside the voluntary lobby register, including some of the corporate world's big names: ABN-Amro Bank, Adidas, Delhaize, Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V., Rio Tinto plc, Time Warner and many others.

Virtually all law firms that lobby on behalf of industry clients have not signed up either. Meanwhile, many of the companies and organisations that do register, fail to provide comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date information on their activities.

And there is no real sanction for this non-compliance: commissioners and commission officials continue to meet with unregistered lobbyists. As just one example, of the lobby meetings held by the commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Olli Rehn in 2011, 62 percent were with unregistered bodies.

The only way for this situation to drastically improve is for the lobby register to become mandatory, as the European Parliament voted in May 2011. All citizens should have the right to know who is trying to gain influence on EU politics, with what budget, on which issues and on whose behalf.

And until the new register completes its journey through the EU's complex decision-making process, interim measures should be put in place to firmly tighten up on the existing rules, including banning those commission meetings with unregistered lobbyists.

According to Article 298 of the EU treaty, all European institutions must be supported by an open, efficient and independent administration, and they “shall establish provisions to that end”. A mandatory lobby register would seem to be very much in keeping with this.

The existing lobby register is currently under review by MEPs and the commission, in a process chaired by Rainer Wieland MEP, the Parliament's Vice President for Transparency issues. Ironically, it is not easy to find out about their deliberations but it is a unique opportunity to introduce much-needed reforms.

However, the mood music emerging from within the review group is not positive. Antonio Gravili, a spokesman for commissioner Sefcovic, is quoted as recently saying: “I’m not sure that the aim [of the review] is to make significant changes…it’s more a finetuning in light of the first two years of experience.”

Meanwhile, Rainer Wieland has set out his ambitions for the review of the register as increasing the number of registrants and getting the EU Council involved. Of course these are important points, but the most effective way to increase the number of registrants would be to make the register mandatory and to force those who lobby in the shadows out into the spotlight of transparency.

That's why ALTER-EU has launched an e-petition to demand that the 20,000 lobbyists in Brussels are properly regulated. We need to shine a spotlight on secretive and unethical lobbying and ensure that Wieland's review group recommends the adoption of an ambitious - and mandatory - lobby register.

The writer works at the Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory

Disclaimer

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

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