With transparency against lobbycracy
Democracy’s credibility may depend on the extent to which lawmakers are influenced by public debates about the common good, and their own campaign pledges, as compared to the extent to which they are influenced by backroom meetings with the representatives of corporate interests. It is part of the reality of European politics, at the level of EU institutions just as well as at the level of member state governments and legislatures, that important measures that would serve important social, environmental or health purposes, or the protection of European consumers, are delayed or blocked because economic players with vested contrary interest are successfully lobbying against them.
We can’t reasonably expect politicians to restrict their interactions with people only to those who have no private interest in the legislative decisions they may have a chance to influence. Much can be done, however, for the transparency of their dealings with people who contact them with the intention of influencing policies in the making.
There are tools that lobbyists themselves may choose to use to make their activities transparent. In 2011 the European Parliament and the Commission agreed to establish a “Transparency Register” for lobbyists who seek to influence the policies of the European Union. The inter-institutional agreement between the Parliament and the Commission which has been revised in 2014 is here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2014-0376+0+DOC+XML+V0//en, while the Register itself is here: http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/homePage.do.
Those who register are expected to state their names, the legislation they seek to influence, the result they want to achieve, the institution or official they are lobbying, and if they are hired to lobby in the interest of a third party, its name too. They are also required to disclose the information on their lobby spending. Registration is, however, voluntary. There are some benefits to registering—it makes easier to obtain passes to enter Parliament premises, for example—but they are not really significant. You can lobby the Parliament and the Commission unregistered just as well as registered.
NGOs concerned by the opacity of lobbying are far from satisfied with the existing system of voluntary registration. According to a study published by ALTER-EU just a few days ago, a good number of large professional lobby organizations, including major international consulting firms, chose not to register. Some of those who registered failed to disclose the names of their clients, and some tend to considerably under-report both the number of their lobbyists active in Brussels and their lobby spending.
Alongside the NGOs active in the field, the European Parliament has called repeatedly for a tougher registration regime. The monopoly of initiating legislative measures is, however, with the Commission. President Juncker of the new Commission promised to introduce mandatory registration (see e.g. http://lobbyfacts.eu/news/29-08-2014/alter-eu-welcomes-junckers-commitment-mandatory-lobby-register-and-proactive). As it is apparent from the Commission’s workplan for 2015, they plan to achieve it through a new inter-institutional agreement. It is unclear, however, how such an agreement between EU institutions could have a binding effect on lobbyists. For this reason the proposed method provoked heavy criticism from the part of transparency campaigners. The Parliament called on the Commission to draft a proposal for binding legislation at least three times (in 2008, 2011, and 2014, for the 2014 resolution see: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P7-TA-2014-0376), and so did the European ombudsman http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/press/release.faces/en/58376/html.bookmark.
Making registration mandatory is not all that needs to be achieved. The voluntary registration regime that is now in place applies only to those who lobby the Commission or the Parliament, although a good deal of the lobbying takes place at the Council or at the permanent representations of the member states.
Lobbying transparency can be approached from the side of the politicians, EU officials, and civil servants, as well. At present, there are no mandatory requirements in place that would bind them to disclose information about their contacts with lobbyists, despite the well-known scandals of recent years. (One of these was the “cash-for-amendments” case, in which Sunday Times journalists disguised themselves as lobbyists and persuaded four MEPs to accept payment for tabling amendments to legislations which were drafted and handed over to them by the fake lobbyists: http://blog.brusselssunshine.eu/2011/03/cash-for-amendments-scandal-just-tip-of.html.)
So far only a few MEPs disclosed information on their lobby meetings on their private websites on a voluntary basis. (I was proud to discover that two of my fellow Green Group members, Sven Giegold and Reinhard Bütikofer are mentioned in TI’s EU Integrity System Report as good examples.)
Right after the last elections TI invited the newly elected MEPs to sign an anti-corruption pledge in which, among other things, the signatories agreed that they will enclose a “legislative footprint” to every legislative file that they will prepare in th2 2014-9 mandate as rapporteurs. The pledge has now nearly 500 signatories. (http://anticorruptionpledge.eu/?p=1#list)
A legislative footprint is an attachment to a proposed legislation in which contacts made with stakeholders who have an interest in the content of the proposal and contacted the rapporteur with the intention of influencing the legislation is documented. TI will shortly publish a policy paper on the methodology they recommend to the signatories. In the meantime, I start recording my lobby meetings—in a way that seems relevant and logical, taking into account also TI’s earlier publications on the matter—on this website under the heading “My glass lobby,” with the following principles.
- I report on all my contacts with stakeholders in relation to all files of which I am rapporteur or shadow rapporteur. If relevant, I will report on contacts with stakeholders in relation to other files as well (relevance will be judged on a case by case basis).
- For these purposes “stakeholder” means anyone—a private person or organization, business or otherwise—with an interest in the file concerned, or anyone who contacts me with the intention of influencing my position on the case concerned. (But I won’t regard as “lobby meeting” if I request advice from a non-interested expert, for example.)
- I will disclose such contacts form February 2015, so that anybody who approaches me can know in advance that the fact and subject of our contact will be disclosed to the public. Retrospectively, that is, from the beginning of my mandate to this date, I will record only public meetings if relevant.
Source of the picture: i2r.com
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