Transparency register does not live up to its name

23 June 2011

Brussels, June 23, 2011 – The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency in the EU (ALTER-EU) today welcomed the launch of the "Transparency Register" - the new joint Commission and Parliament register of interest representatives in the EU. However, while the new register will bring a number of improvements [1], several fundamental flaws remain. It is essential that these should be fixed as soon as possible.

Earlier this week ALTER-EU published research showing the massive extent of under-reporting in the old register [2]. Ahead of the launch of the new "Transparency Register", ALTER-EU analysed declarations of the 40 biggest industry associations in the Commission lobby register and found likely under-reporting of lobby expenditure by a very significant number of groups, including BusinessEurope, Eurelectric and the Confederation of the Food and Drinks Industries (CIAA). ALTER-EU estimates that millions of euros could have been missing from the declarations of many industry associations in the former Commission register.

Speaking for ALTER-EU, Erik Wesselius said: "We welcome the improvements in the new Commission and Parliament lobby register. But the transparency register does not yet live up to its name and it is crucial that it is continually strengthened. As supported by the European Parliament, mandatory registration should remain the long term goal."

Paul de Clerck of ALTER-EU added: "The widespread under-reporting in the former Commission register has shown that strong safeguards for high-quality data are really needed to prevent abuses and scandals. Transparency should never be optional. If the data is unreliable, it will remain meaningless to call it the 'transparency register'. We urge the Commission and the Parliament to start improving the new joint system as early as possible."

Crucial improvements, which still need to be introduced at the earliest opportunity, include [3]:

  • Mandatory registration should remain the long-term goal of the Commission and Parliament. Preparations for a transition, at least by 2015, should start now;
  • Full transparency regarding the size of lobbying consultancies' clients in ranges of 10,000 euro;
  • Safeguards against under-reporting, including: regular checks on registrations and meaningful enforcement of the rules to prevent under-reporting. Clearer guidance on disclosure requirements is needed (depending on what is released);
  • Transparency on funding sources for all registrants;
  •  Publication of the names of lobbyists that have been found to be in breach of the rules;
  • Up-to-date information;
  •  A short transition period to the new register of three months maximum.

***

Notes:

[1] Among the list of improvements, ALTER-EU welcomes: the link between registration and obtaining a long term access badge to the European Parliament, which provides better incentives for registration; the listing of individual lobbyists that have a permanent access badge to the Parliament and the number of lobbyists per organisation; the indication of the legislative proposals being lobbied on; the introduction of a single code of conduct for all lobbyists; the commitment to regular data checks; the improved complaints and sanctions mechanism; the listing of all grants and contracts received from EU sources; the introduction of annual reporting on the operation of the register and of a review mechanism no later than two years after its launch.

[2] See 'The Missing millions – how the new lobby register needs to tackle the 'under-reporting' by industry lobby groups' 

[3] For details on ALTER-EU assessment of the new "Transparency Register", please refer to ALTER-EU assessment of European Parliament – Commission agreement on a common "Transparency Register", February 2011 

***

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 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. See www.alter-eu.org