MEPs urged to vote for greater lobbying transparency

6 May 2008

Parliament must strengthen its own registration system, tighten financial disclosure and close loopholes in Thursday's vote, groups say

Brussels, May 6 - MEPs are being urged to strengthen a key resolution on lobbying transparency when it comes before the Parliament on Thursday 8 May or risk leaving large areas of lobbying activity unchecked.

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation in the EU (ALTER-EU), has today (Tuesday) written to MEPs urging them put themselves at the forefront of the battle for EU lobbying transparency in Thursday's plenary vote on the "Framework for the activities of lobbyists in the EU institutions" by closing loopholes and giving clearer benchmarks on financial disclosure.

The coalition warns that without this action, many of the activities carried out by the estimated 15-20,000 lobbyists operating at EU level would not appear on the proposed new register.

Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe, a member of the ALTER-EU steering committee, says:

"MEPs must face up to their responsibilities and take this opportunity to achieve real and lasting progress in improving transparency on lobbying activities in Brussels. Lobbyists have operated behind closed doors for too long - it is time the public knew how different industry sectors attempt to influence the legislative process."

The ALTER-EU coalition is calling on MEPs to back a shared, mandatory register for all lobbyists working to influence EU institutions, as proposed in the resolution, including lobbyists names, their clients or funders and full financial disclosure on registered lobbying activities.

But the coalition also wants to see a common code of ethical behaviour for all lobbyists and an appropriate sanction mechanism; an improved registration system for lobbyists within the European Parliament, the inclusion of clearly defined benchmarks for financial disclosure, and action to close loopholes on registration for lawyers.

Tough action by the European Parliament will help put pressure on the European Commission to improve its weak proposals for EU lobbying transparency and ethics rules.

The Commission is expected to launch its own register next month - but under current proposals this will be purely voluntary, and will not include any meaningful financial data or the names of individual lobbyists.

Reporting obligations for lawyers have become a key issue following recent lobbying activity from law firms who say they should not have to register from providing broad "legal advice". This would allow law firms to avoid registering public affairs activities by labelling these as "legal advice". Some law firms are already boasting that the expected exemption for law firms will allow them to lobby more effectively. [1]

Amendments tabled by EPP-ED and ALDE would create such a loophole for law firms. ALTER EU is urging MEPs to oppose the amendment in plenary.

The Coalition says that in the absence of a joint register for the Parliament and Commission, the Parliament should require lobbyists to register details of who they work for, on what issues and the amount of finance involved. Parliament should also act against conflicts of interests and ensure that corporate lobbyists do not get privileged access to MEPs.

Last month the European Parliament showed that it is capable of upholding standards on these issues when it stepped in to prohibit the employment of spouses or family members as assistants, and banned the European Business and Parliament Scheme from organising lobbying activities from offices within the European Parliament building.

 

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NOTES:

[1] See for example EU Lobbying News, 1st Quarter 2008, Alber & Geiger, Brussels.

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FURTHER NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1: ALTER-EU's letter to MEPs is online at http://www.alter-eu.org

2: The European Parliament's draft report on the "Development of the framework for the activities of interest representatives (lobbyists) in the European institutions" is online at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/file.jsp?id=5484652

3: The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) is a coalition of over 160 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms calling for: A EU lobbying disclosure legislation; improved code of conduct for European Commission Officials; the European Commission to terminate cases of privileged access and undue influence granted to corporate lobbyists. The call for "Ending corporate privileges and secrecy around lobbying in the European Union", the founding statement of the ALTER-EU and a list of signatories are available at www.alter-eu.org.