20th Mar 2018

EU commission promises transparency on lobbyists and US trade talks

  • Who's who in the EU corridors? There will be some exceptions to the transparency drive, such as meetings with foreign dissidents who may need to be 'protected' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The European Commission has announced a new transparency drive, promising that contacts with lobbyists will have to be publicly recorded and that documents relating to a controversial EU-US trade deal be made available to all MEPs.

"I think we have moved from a time where government had an attitude towards the public of 'trust me' to a stiuation now where the public says to government 'show me!' And we want to show you", said commission vice-president Frans Timmermans on Wednesday (19 November).

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Under the plans, commissioners, members of their cabinets and the heads of the various departments of the commission will all have to make public their meetings with lobbyists and other pressure groups. Additionally, they should only meet with registered lobbyists.

The practice - to start in December - will not be enforced by an independent watchdog, rather, the onus will be on each individual to be transparent.

"The president of the European Commission will ensure they comply" with the new transparency rules said Timmermans, who noted that he was sure MEPs, the EU Ombudsman, and the press would be "very attentive".

Having promised to take the first lobbyist disclosure step, the commission was also keen to throw down the gauntlet to the European Parliament and the EU Council.

The EU assembly has been reluctant to endorse such a measure in the past, while the council (representing member states), is the least transparent of the EU institutions.

"I'd really be very pleased if all members of the European Parliament would do the same so that we can see who they are talking to because they play a very important part in decision-making," said Timmermans.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom also took the floor to promise more openness on EU-US trade talks - with an EU public largely mistrustful of what the end deal will look like.

"I realise there is a lot of interest and a lot of doubts and scepticism about this", she said, referring to fears about the lowering of EU environment and consumer standards to accommodate a deal.

She said one way of tackling the "suspicion" is more transparency.

She noted that the commission discussed giving all 751 members of parliament - rather than a select few, as is currently the case - access to documents concerning the agreement.

They also discussed that draft texts from the agreement which are sent to member states should also be published to "demystify" the "concerns out there".

The final decisions on both the lobbyist and trade negotiations transparency will be taken by commissioners next week.

MEPs have already welcomed the trade deal move. German centre-right deputy Daniel Caspary said it was a "long overdue step", while Dutch liberal Marietje Schaake said it was "great to see" the transparency step.

No de-regulation yet

Meanwhile, Timmermans abandoned mooted plans to scrap a new law on the reduction of plastic bags in the EU.

The move would have been a symbolic first step in the commission's stated aim of clamping down on unnecessary laws.

The commission proposed the law limiting the use of thin plastic bags last year. But negotiations between member states and MEPs saw the law emerge with added reduction targets and a ban on certain bags marketed as biodegradable.

Timmermans indicated that the commission would not block the passing of the law.

But he also added - being the man in charge of cutting back EU legislation - that he is not sure it amounts to "better regulation".

He concluded that if there are problems with implementing the bill "that is something the member states will have brought upon themselves".


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