Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

Opinion

Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?

  • Charles Michel, new president of the European Council, alongside new president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (Photo: European Council)

Charles Michel, the former prime minister of Belgium has just started as president of the European Council, the EU institution which brings together the leaders of the 28 member states to collectively determine the EU's overall political agenda.

It overlaps with the start of the COP25 in Madrid; this is an interesting coincidence as the influence of fossil companies on the council will to a larger extent determine if the climate focus of the European Commission will succeed or not.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

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

... or subscribe as a group

A group of civil society organisations led by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation is demanding that president Michel challenge the business-as-usual approach of the European Council.

Via an open letter, we have set Michel ten crucial challenges for his term in office to avoid corporate capture and boost ethics and transparency in EU policy making.

The European council is a strong magnet for major corporations and business lobby groups which have the ambition, resources, and networks to influence member state leaders and the presidency.

Michel must ensure that citizens' interests are prioritised over corporate interests throughout the agenda-setting and decision-making of the European Council.

Certain corporate sectors cause particular concern.

Big Tobacco

The EU is a signatory to Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which requires that all official dealings with tobacco lobbyists should be kept to a minimum and all contacts should be fully transparent.

But these guidelines are not yet being fully implemented and Michel can play an important role here.

Meanwhile, as governments meet in Madrid for the COP25 climate talks, and even though the vast majority of known coal, oil and gas reserves must be left in the ground if we are to save the planet from climate crisis, alarmingly the fossil fuel industry continues to wield significant political influence across the EU.

And also other industries such as finance, tax avoidance, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and the arms trade, have also repeatedly been shown to be too close to decision-makers, and have succeeded in weakening regulations and undermining public-interest policy-making.

It is urgent that the European council debates and implements practical measures to reduce the influence of these industries on both EU and national policy-making.

Here, Michel has the opportunity to lead by example.

He and his cabinet could start by adopting the Juncker Commission guideline to "seek to ensure an appropriate balance and representativeness in the stakeholders they meet".

This would involve strictly enforcing a balance between the number of meetings with corporate representatives and those representing public interests (including NGOs, trade unions, academic institutions).

Securing full lobby transparency and boosting ethics

Despite requests to do so, Donald Tusk, the outgoing president of the European council, refused to publish a full and detailed list of the meetings that he and his cabinet had held with lobbyists.

Michel must do things differently and ensure that the lobby transparency practised by his office is in line with the recent suggestions of the European Ombudsman.

He must also ensure that he and his cabinet commit to not meet with, nor attend events organised by, lobbyists who have not joined the EU lobby transparency register.

There is a further way in which the incoming European council president must get his own house in order.

Transparency register

Few people know that the code of conduct for the European council president is substantially weaker than the code of conduct for commissioners.

The notification period, lobby ban, and approval process are all notably weaker. The European council must at the minimum ensure that the president's code of conduct is brought into line with that of the European commission president.

Finally, the 28 member states have a profound responsibility to support a number of provisions to improve ethics and transparency within the EU:

1. The establishment of a strong and legally-binding lobby transparency register across the EU institutions

2. The radical reform of legislative transparency at the Council of the EU

3. Ensuring that president Ursula von der Leyen's proposal for an independent ethics body to operate across the EU institutions is as robust as possible.

While these are technically matters for its sister institution, the council of the EU, European council members and its president can nonetheless lead the way by showing ethical and practical leadership here.

The European council may only hit the headlines when its Brussels' summits run late into the night or when it is required to grant yet another Brexit extension.

However, given that the European council is the EU's primary agenda-setting institution, it deserves our attention and careful scrutiny – and as citizens we deserve its commitment to tackle corporate capture and boost transparency.

Author bio

Vicky Cann is a campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory, which is a member of the steering committee of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation.

Disclaimer

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

Interview

Katainen explains: My friend Barroso did not lobby me

Vice-president of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen tells EUobserver that he did most of the talking during a beer with the former commission chief, who now works for Goldman Sachs.

Investigation

The dark side of 'egg' building: workers without papers

An investigation of the Belgian newspaper De Standaard reveals that the Europa Building, where EU summits take place, was partly built by undocumented migrants and workers without proper contracts.

For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive

The EU Commission's 2022 CSDDD proposal did not include provisions incorporating "conflict due diligence", they were added, after the Russian invasion, by the European Parliament and Council into the final directive text — for Ukraine's sake, vote for it.

Latest News

  1. MEPs slap three-month ban on foreign ads ahead of EU polls
  2. EU nature restoration law approved after massive backlash
  3. Memo from Munich — EU needs to reinvent democracy support
  4. For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive
  5. All of Orbán's MPs back Sweden's Nato entry
  6. India makes first objection to EU carbon levy at WTO summit
  7. Angry farmers block Brussels again, urge fix to 'unfair' prices
  8. Luxembourg denies blind spot on Nato security vetting

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us