One step forward, two steps back?

23 June 2008

New Commission EU lobby register is weak and unbalanced

Brussels, 23 June 2008 - The voluntary EU lobby register launched today by the Commission is weak and unbalanced, said the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (ALTER-EU).

"The Commission started off over three years ago with worthy ideas for an EU lobby register, but the end product is proof that commercial lobbyists have excessive influence in Brussels. We sincerely hope the Commission's flawed register will quickly be replaced by a better one that ensures real transparency," said Jorgo Riss of ALTER-EU.

"This voluntary lobby register is more of a token gesture for transparency than an actual step forward," said Erik Wesselius of ALTER-EU. "The Commission is obviously more worried about protecting the identity of lobbyists than it is in increasing transparency and restoring citizens' trust in the EU at a time when such trust is needed most."

The Commission lobby register is voluntary: a major flaw.(1) Other shortcomings:

. There will be no names of individual lobbyists. This means no exposure of scandals, no trace of revolving doors, no information on possible conflicts of interest and continued confusion over the number of lobbyists active in Brussels.

. The rules for financial disclosure are weak and skewed in favour of industry lobbyists:
- different interest groups are allowed to calculate data in different ways, such as in percentage bands of total expenses or in wide ranges;
- financial reporting will not be comparable, since industry lobbyists are asked to give a "good faith estimate" of their lobbying expenditure in Brussels, while public interest organisations must disclose their total budget. Transparency campaigners demand that lobbyists be treated equally and disclose lobbying expenses as well as overall budgets.

. The lack of common data disclosure rules means that the information published cannot be compared or aggregated. For example, journalists will not be able to ascertain how much money was spent by the agro-chemical lobby as a whole to influence legislators, but only what each company has spent, excluding fees paid to consultancies.

"As it stands, the register cannot be used as the basis for a common lobbyists' register with Parliament and the Council. When you compare it to other tested systems, such as in the US, its voluntary nature and distortion in fact make it look like one of the world's weakest registers," said Craig Holman, from US transparency group Public Citizen.

The number of EU lobbyists is generally estimated to be over 15,000, a large majority representing commercial interests. Industry insiders estimate the annual turnover of corporate lobbying in Brussels to be up to 1 billion euro per year. Precise figures are unavailable because of the absence of financial transparency obligations. The proposed register will not list the individual lobbyists, only their firms or lobby groups.

ALTER-EU will continue campaigning for real lobbying transparency and a new register to replace the Commission's flawed proposal.

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NOTES FOR EDITORS:

(1) A recent resolution by the European Parliament called for a stronger and mandatory EU lobby register. See: Benchmarks for the EU lobbying transparency register, www.alter-eu.org.

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation is a coalition of over 160 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms concerned with the increasing influence exerted by corporate lobbyists on the political agenda in Europe, the resulting loss of democracy in EU decision-making and the postponement, weakening, or blockage even, of urgently needed progress on social, environmental and consumer-protection reforms. www.alter-eu.org