Lobbying transparency still out of sight

23 April 2009

European Parliament and Commission fail to advance effective joint lobby register

Brussels, 23 April 2009 – A shared transparency register and code of conduct for lobbyists proposed
by the European Parliament and Commission [1] will fail to shed more light on lobbying in Brussels transparency campaigners warned today.

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) welcomes the principle of a joint register but believes the proposal unveiled yesterday is seriously flawed and means EU citizens will have to wait longer for credible and meaningful lobbying transparency.

A working group between the European Parliament and Commission [2] agreed to establish a joint voluntary register for the two institutions. The half-hearted attempt to bolt together two weak and very contrasting existing registers makes no attempt to address the fact that the current voluntary register of the European Commission [3] has been shunned by a high proportion of lobby organisations and firms, nor the loopholes of the Parliament scheme which allows thousands of lobbyists to enter on day passes without registering. The agreement is out of line with a resolution on lobby transparency adopted by the Parliament in May 2008 [4]. In its resolution, the Parliament had called for a mandatory lobby register that would list lobbyists by name and provide detailed financial information on lobby efforts.

The European Commission and Parliament agreed to open a new transparency 'portal page' on the internet [5]. This page simply links to the existing registers of Commission and Parliament, without providing any improved transparency. The agreement also contains a proposal for a shared code of conduct for lobbyists that also is unlikely to improve lobbying ethics, as it simply merges the two existing codes of conduct.

Erik Wesselius of Corporate Europe Observatory, a member of ALTER-EU said: "In May last year, the European Parliament resolution called for a mandatory register for lobbyists which requires disclosure of names of lobbyists and financial details. Now they have agreed to endorse a voluntary register which only names the minority of lobbyists who hold Parliamentary access passes and which contains very weak and misleading financial disclosure requirements. Instead of finally allowing the public to get a clear picture about who is influencing decision-making in Brussels, Commissioner Kallas and MEPs seem to be settling for the lowest common denominator. The result is a compromise register which creates a false impression of transparency, while most of EU lobbying will continue outside of any public scrutiny."

Commission and the EU Parliamentarians involved in the agreement [2] seem to claim an understanding that the experience with the Commission's Register for Interest Representatives is 'positive'. But analysis by ALTER-EU shows that this voluntary register covers at most 20 per cent of all Brussels-based lobby organisations. [6]

Christine Pohl from Friends of the Earth Europe, another member of ALTER-EU said "The big Brussels law firms, think tanks and many of the large corporations who are politically active in Brussels are in effect boycotting the register. The Commission sells the 1340 registrations to date as a success, but only 538 of those organisations have an office in Brussels. In reality, at least 80 per cent of all Brussels-based lobbying organisations still have not registered."

The statement of the Parliament/Commission working group comes two months before the Commission is due to publish an evaluation of its register. The Commission has not yet announced the criteria it will use in assessing the success or failure of the scheme, despite repeated calls for it to do so.

Dr. William Dinan of Spinwatch, another ALTER-EU member added: "The vague requirements for disclosure of finances, clients, and lobbying activities undermine the promised transparency of the register. The joint statement by Parliament and Commission promises to review the reporting provisions regarding lobbying finances and client disclosure. Those tasked with this review must ensure that the many loopholes are fixed so disclosure becomes meaningful to the public rather than simply convenient for lobbyists."

ALTER-EU urges the Commission and the Parliament to ensure an open, structured and transparent evaluation process. Stakeholders should be actively invited to contribute and all contributions should be public.

***

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

[1] Joint statement regarding the progress achieved to date, High-Level Working Group on a Common Register and Code of Conduct for Lobbyists, 22 April 2009, http://ec.europa.eu/commission_barroso/kallas/doc/joint_statement_register.pdf

[2] The working group members were Ingo Friedrich (EPP), Jo Leinen (PSE), Diana Wallis (ALDE) and Commissioner Siim Kallas (Administrative Affairs, Audit, Anti-Fraud)

[3] European Commission register of interest representatives: https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/transparency/regrin/welcome.do

[4] European Parliament resolution of 8 May 2008 on the development of the framework for the activities of interest representatives (lobbyists) in the European institutions (2007/2115(INI)),
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P6-TA-2008-0197

[5] The "portal page" (http://europa.eu/lobbyists/interest_representative_registers/index_en.html) is not linked from the home pages at www.europa.eu, ec.europarl.eu or www.europarl.europa.eu

[6] On 20 April, only 538 of the registered interest representatives have indicated a physical presence in Brussels. That is circa 20% of the 2,600 Brussels-based lobbying entities mentioned in an EP study (Lobbying in the European Union: current rules and practices , Working Paper, Directorate-General for Research, European Parliament, April 2003). Companies like AIG, Bertelsmann, Coca Cola, Monsanto, Nokia, Philips and Vattenfall or larger lobby firms like Aspect Consulting, Bell Pottinger, Grayling and Weber Shandwick are not registered. At the same time, the register contains a host of exotic lobbying minnows, for example: Bundesverband Deutscher Detektive e.V. (250 €), Nigeria Internet Wizard Association (8000 €), Unternehmerverband Erotik Gewerbe Deutschland e.V. (10 €).
In a recent EurActiv survey, 55% of federations, 53% of consultancies and 41% of businesses indicated that they do not intend to register. Even the Commission acknowledges that law firms providing lobbying services and think tanks are boycotting the register.

See also ALTER-EU analysis: "Commission Lobby Register Fails Transparency Test; Major overhaul needed to secure compliance and better disclosure", 27 January 2009, http://www.alter-eu.org/en/system/files/files/alter-eu/publications/Commission+Register+Fails+Transparency+Test.pdf

 

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: 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 http://www.alter-eu.org

Earlier this week ALTER-EU wrote to the members of the inter-institutional working group arguing against endorsing the Commission’s failing voluntary register: http://www.alter-eu.org/en/system/files/publications/ALTER+EU+letter+to+IWG+--+21+April+2009.pdf