European Parliament plenary votes for mandatory lobbyists register; Christian Democrats and Liberals weaken resolution

8 May 2008

Brussels, May 8 - The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation in the EU (ALTER-EU) welcomes the European Parliament's approval today of the report on "Framework for the activities of lobbyists in the EU institutions". The report sends a strong message to the European Commission by calling for a mandatory register, including lobbyists names, their clients or funders and financial disclosure on registered lobbying activities. The Commission is expected to launch its own register in mid-June - but under current proposals this will be purely voluntary, and will not include meaningful financial data or the names of individual lobbyists. "Commissioner Kallas must now act and strengthen the Commission's weak proposals for EU lobbying transparency and ethics rules, as he recently committed to do", says Erik Wesselius (Corporate Europe Observatory).[1]

Despite this positive news, the plenary vote today also produced some very disappointing changes to the report. A controversial amendment creating a loophole for law firms was approved with the votes of EPP-ED and ALDE. [2] "It is deeply disturbing that Brussels-based law firms providing lobby consultancy services for corporate clients may now be able to escape transparency obligations", says Uli Mueller (LobbyControl). The approval in today's vote follows intensive lobbying by special interest groups like the Council of Bars and Law Societies (CCBE). One of the MEPs that tabled the amendment, German conservative Klaus-Heiner Lehne, works as a partner in a law firm, advising on EU law. "This outcome shows the need for the Parliament to clean up its own house and introduce strong rules to prevent conflicts of interest", says Paul de Clerck (Friends of the Earth Europe).

ALTER-EU regrets that a majority of the European Parliament rejected proposals to set an ambitious timeline for the launch of a joint, inter-institutional register and to ensure immediate improvements in the Parliament's own rules on lobbying. Also the proposed sanction mechanism to the code of conduct was voted down, as were proposals calling upon the Commission to improve transparency around its special advisors, expert groups and comitology, and to act against potential conflicts of interests and problematic revolving doors cases.

Despite the weakening of the report by Christian Democratic and Liberal MEPs, the Parliament vote nevertheless sends a strong message to Commissioner Kallas. The Commission now must stand up against commercial lobbyists' pressure, include the names of lobbyists and introduce serious financial disclosure obligations in its upcoming register.

 

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FURTHER NOTES FOR EDITORS:

[1] Commissioner Siim Kallas, correspondence with the Civil Society Contact Group, 10 April 2008.

[2] 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)

An estimated 15-20,000 lobbyists operating at EU level. Industry insiders estimate the annual turnover of corporate lobbying in Brussels to be up to 1 billion euro per year, but precise figures are missing due to the absence of financial transparency obligations.

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 EU 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 Alliance for Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) and a list of signatories are available on www.alter-eu.org

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NOTES:

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