Saturday

18th Nov 2017

Stakeholder

Debate on EU Transparency Register overlooks citizens' right to know

The debate on the future of the EU's Transparency Register has to date focused on the dichotomy between mandatory and voluntary lobby registers, and the extent to which lobbyists should be required to disclose information about their funding, staff, clients and activities. One of the most contentious issues is whether or not there is a legal basis in the treaties that would allow the EU to create a mandatory lobby register.

The Council and Parliament legal services have assured that the only solid legal basis in EU the Treaties would initiate a cumbersome decision-making procedure that excludes the European Parliament and requires unanimity among all 28 Member States. Although the Council has been participating as an observer in the Transparency Register since September 2012, it has yet to sign up to the initiative, raising questions about political will.

The final outcome of this debate is hugely important for citizen participation and accountability: without a mandatory register, there will be no easy way for citizens, civil society, journalists and policy-makers to accurately find out about the funding, staff, clients and activities of professional lobbyists and other interest groups including civil society organisations.

At the same time, Access Info Europe believes that to focus solely on the issue of the lobby register and on whether or not it has a legal basis, deflects attention from another area where there is a pressing need for transparency: Europe's citizens still have far too little information about how decisions are taken in Brussels and on the basis of which criteria. It is precisely this lack of information which raises concerns about whether EU legislation has been written for the benefit of the public. As recent polls once again confirm, the public suspects that that this is not the case and is losing trust in the European Union.

To tackle declining confidence, the European Union institutions should make it a priority to broaden the decision making transparency debate and take responsibility for ensuring that – with or without a mandatory register of lobbyists – the primary responsibility for ensuring adequate transparency falls on the EU institutions and public officials.

Consistent with the fundamental right of access to information, the European Union should proactively publish all documents that would make the EU's decision-making process, and hence the lobbying that surrounds it, fully transparent to the public.

Much work on Open Government Standards has been done by transparency organisations such as Access Info Europe, the Sunlight Foundation, Open Knowledge Foundation and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER EU), to identify key sets of information that should be prioritised for proactive publication. These include:

Details of meetings with third parties - EU officials who meet with third parties privately or as part of a public event to discuss EU policy or legislation should publish full information about the meetings attended, including:

• participants' list

• agenda of meeting

• sponsors of meeting or event

• background documents circulated at the meeting

• policy papers presented

• minutes of the meeting, including main legislative issues or policies discussed

High level EU officials should also make their agendas public so that citizens can know in advance who they are going to be meeting with.

Lobby documents - EU officials that are receive documents from lobbyists such as policy papers, position statements, proposed amendments or voting recommendations, should proactively publish these documents regardless of whether they are submitted privately, discussed at a meeting, or submitted as part of an open public consultation.

Legislative footprint - A legislative footprint would give citizens the opportunity not only to follow but also to participate in the EU's decision-making process on an equal footing with professional lobbyists. It would include detailed information about the various stages involved in a particular decision-making process, published in advance so that citizens and civil society can identify key decision-making moments before they are finalised. Registers of visitors to EU buildings should also be made public.

Watchdog organisations such as ALTER EU (of which Access Info is a Steering Committee member) have also pointed out a number of practical measures that could be taken by the Parliament and Commission to improve the functioning of the current register by making it de-facto mandatory. These include refusing to meet with unregistered lobbyists, rejecting invitations to events hosted by unregistered lobbyists, and refusing to host events within the EU premises if the organisers or sponsors are unregistered.

It remains to be seen whether the EU institutions can shift the transparency debate to make it relevant to the ordinary citizen in advance of the European Parliament elections, and whether it will take bold steps that will generate public confidence in the political will of the EU institutions to create an ever closer union with European citizens.

Access Info Europe is a human rights organisation that works to defend and promote the right of access to information across Europe as a tool for defending civil liberties and human rights, for facilitating public participation in decision-making and for holding governments accountable.

Pam Bartlett Quintanilla is Researcher & Campaigner at Access Info Europe, a human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and protecting the right of access to information in Europe as a tool for defending civil liberties and human rights, for facilitating public participation in decision making, and for holding governments accountable. This mandate is established in our statutes.

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

A window to EU lobbying and lobbyists

The EU transparency register for the European Parliament and the European Commission was launched in the summer of 2011 to better expose outside influence on EU law and decision-making.

Silicones - enabling the next big leap in prosthetics and health

Prosthetics have been used for hundreds of years, but for much of that time saw little technological development. Today, it is possible to replace lost limbs with high-tech prosthetics made with silicone, that function seamlessly and provide a natural appearance.

Stakeholders' Views

This EUobserver section provides a platform for EU stakeholders to communicate positions, views and activities.

News in Brief

  1. Bonn climate talks extend into Friday evening
  2. UK needs to move on Brexit by early December, Tusk says
  3. Puigdemont extradition decision postponed to December
  4. Ireland wants written UK guarantees to avoid hard border
  5. US did not obstruct climate talks, says German minister
  6. EU signs social declaration
  7. Puigdemont to be heard by Belgian judges
  8. Steep fall in migrants reaching EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  2. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  4. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  5. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  6. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  9. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  10. World Vision20 November: Exchange of Views at the EP on Children Affected by the Syria Crisis
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  2. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  3. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  4. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  5. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities
  6. Climate activists 'disappointed' with EU at climate talks
  7. Davis outlines UK vision on Brexit in Berlin
  8. German coalition talks in near collapse

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  2. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  4. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  5. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  9. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  10. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter
  11. Counter BalanceNature Destruction Cannot Be Compensated For, Say NGOs
  12. CES - Silicones EuropeSilicones - Enabling the Next Big Leap in Prosthetics and Health