Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Opinion

The year of transparent lobbying

  • There are currently 803 interest representatives in the register (Photo: EUobserver)

Let's start 2009 with some good news. The European Commission's Register for Interest Representatives, launched in June 2008, is progressing very well.

European citizens now have direct access to information on the existence, diversity and multitude of represented interests. Six months after the Register was begun, around 800 organisations are registered, with more being added every day.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

This is real progress, and in order to fully appreciate it, one should recall the starting point in 2006.

None of 15 "old" EU member states have regulated lobbying, although some are currently discussing whether to do so. In the UK for instance, where a recent inquiry reported a number of high-profile cases of improper lobbying, the House of Commons has proposed to move from relying entirely on self-regulation to mandatory registration enforced by an independent body.

Among the 12 member states that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, only Hungary, Poland and Lithuania have passed statutory regulation. Overall, lobbying is mostly un-regulated at national level.

At the level of EU institutions, the European Transparency Initiative picked up the debate almost from scratch in 2005. There is and was some self-regulation by certain Brussels-based professional bodies, but membership is fragmented and not fully representative of the lobby community. There were various codes of conduct, but no single authoritative one, and no common approach among the main EU institutions. And the information disclosed was minimalistic.

Beyond self-regulation

Acting preventively before a scandal, the commission chose to offer the profession an opportunity to preserve the current open relations without imposing bureaucratic barriers and heavy reporting requirements.

In line with this approach, joining the register is voluntary to begin with. It is an opportunity for bona fide lobbyists. It offers a bonus for transparency, and puts the onus on lobbyists to manage the reputation of their profession. This differs from the US approach, where the legislator puts a penalty on getting caught.

But the European model goes well beyond self-regulation: Indeed, the commission designed and runs the register; has committed to effective enforcement and sanctions where justified; has adopted an obligatory code of conduct and set the obligatory minimum information required to join.

We have also clearly announced mandatory registration if our gentle persuasion to join us voluntarily is not heard.

These should be seen as solid first steps. An important mental barrier has been broken, and the profession has accepted that registration is coming to Europe.

Law-firms and think tanks behind the curve

It is premature to draw further conclusions half way through the trial period. Still, after only six months, we can already say that the register works.

It is easy to search for information in it and it is easy to register, even if for some ensuring accurate financial disclosure is rather time-consuming.

On the other hand, it shows registration is taken seriously, and that the profession is willing to make the required effort. Some of the largest lobby firms in Brussels have registered, disclosing their list of clients and turnover gained from lobbying the EU institutions.

This is encouraging, and I hope those who are still dragging their feet will carefully consider the implications.

None of the major law firms with combined legal and lobby practices have registered. This is not OK.

As in Washington, law firms "double-dip" in their clients' budgets. If they do not register, this is unfair towards those consultancies that have. Law firms with dual activities should not be allowed to "hide behind the bar".

Also, none of the major think-tanks are in. There are more than 60 think-tanks in Brussels, and none of the major ones have registered. They are important because experience shows that the impartial academic nature associated with the think-tank concept could be misused to promote partisan special interests.

Under greater scrutiny

The commission will continue its efforts to increase coverage. Unregistered lobbyists are likely to be under greater scrutiny, and we have told our staff to document and record any substantial contacts with unregistered lobbyists. Staff is further advised to be transparent with their hierarchy whenever they are in contact with lobbyists, and to ask their contacts to register. Further measures are being prepared.

In parallel, the European Commission and the European Parliament are working together on the possibility of setting up a joint register for all lobbyists involved in influencing the European Union's decision-making processes.

The aim is to give the profession a single register, with no red tape, providing the public with a single entry-point to a comprehensive overview of the role of lobbyists in the EU's decision-making bodies. A joint working group will report on this in February, when I will meet with European Parliament vice-president Diana Wallis, and MEPs Ingo Friedrich and Jo Leinen to discuss the various options.

Whatever the details agreed, a mental breakthrough has been achieved and the future will certainly bring greater transparency to lobbying in Brussels.

Siim Kallas is vice-president of the European Commission and in charge of administrative affairs, audit and anti-fraud

EU lobbying registry has 'no real benefit'

A UK cross-party parliamentary committee inquiry into the lobbying industry has issued a report that criticises the European Commission's voluntary registry of lobbyists as having "no real benefit" and of being no model for the introduction of a similar registry in Britain.

Taking full benefit of supercomputers in Europe

Newly-announced financial help for so-called 'supercomputers' can help both EU member states, and small and medium-sized companies to grow - in fields such as health diagnostics, driverless cars and even earthquake predicting.

Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises

A series of missteps - from the faulty institutional infrastructure of the euro, to the migration crisis - have left the EU battered and in near crisis. Here are ten steps to re-democratise the union.

EU's 'old men' must pressure Poland on abortion rights

Despite fresh crackdowns on Poland's already restrictive abortion laws, EU commission president Juncker did not raise the issue with the new Polish PM Morawiecki - perhaps because it was an all-male event?

Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises

A series of missteps - from the faulty institutional infrastructure of the euro, to the migration crisis - have left the EU battered and in near crisis. Here are ten steps to re-democratise the union.

EU's 'old men' must pressure Poland on abortion rights

Despite fresh crackdowns on Poland's already restrictive abortion laws, EU commission president Juncker did not raise the issue with the new Polish PM Morawiecki - perhaps because it was an all-male event?

News in Brief

  1. Belgium lowers terror alert level
  2. France, Spain set to gain seats in post-Brexit EU parliament
  3. Orban family probed over 'fraudulent' EU projects
  4. Spanish judge rejects Puigdemont arrest warrant
  5. Austria plans to sue Commission over Hungary's nuclear plant
  6. Puigdemont proposed as sole candidate for Catalan leadership
  7. Abbas in Brussels to discuss Palestinian state recognition
  8. Exiled Catalan leader leaves Belgium for first time

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. EU stands by Palestine on Jerusalem
  2. MEPs may bar killer robots and drones from EU research cash
  3. Europe's social democrats are having a hard time
  4. How Oettinger's CO2 permit sale could fill Brexit blackhole
  5. New Polish foreign minister tries to charm EU commission
  6. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on agenda This WEEK
  7. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  8. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap