Lobbying in Brussels: the transparency register

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Interest representation, often derogatorily named lobbying, is an integral part of the policymaking process of the European Union. It enables the expression of the views of all stakeholders in many political issues. The EU has created a “transparency register”[1] that allows to identify organisations and individuals dedicated to representing interests towards the European institutions[2].

 

An Interinstitutional Arrangement on a mandatory Transparency Register[3] proposed by the European Commission (EC) in 2016 has recently seen a surge of interest, as the European Council (Council) adopted a negotiating mandate on this topic in late 2017[4]. The Transparency Register provides data for information not only for EU institutions and their members, officials and other staff (EU officials), but also for other interest groups and citizens[5]. The entities seeking to influence the EU policymaking process have to fill in the register, and are bound by the Code of Conduct valid for all parties interacting with the EU institutions representatives[6]. Commissioners, their cabinet members and Directors-General, when meeting these organisations or individuals have to publish meeting dates and attendance. While the European Commission and the European Parliament (EP) both use this system, the European Council however, does not. Signing into the Register allows interest representatives to request meetings with high level EC officials and to access the premises of the EP. MEP and their staff have resolved to only accept encounters with registered organisations and individuals[7].

Interests representation is an important endeavour for the smooth functioning of the complex EU machinery at all stages of the policymaking process. The Transparency Register strongly limits the possibilities for non-registered organisations to be heard, although several alleys exists to this effect. Indeed, the roughly 32 000 lower-echelon EU officials[8] tasked with drafting texts and technical details are important components of the legal construction of the EU, and welcome input and expertise brought by concerned stakeholders that do not need to be registered.

Another loophole of the Transparency Register is the obligation that it imposes on law firms to disclose their clients’ identity, which is in most EU Member States under penalty of disbarment[9]. This is somewhat subject to debate between registered and non-registered law firms performing interest representation. Interestingly, the EP resolution asking its members not to meet non-registered interest representatives[10] takes a rather voluntary approach, foreseeing no sanctions of MEPs in case of infringement, and does not take into consideration meetings outside the EP premises[11].

It is worth noting that there is a large gap between Western and Eastern Member States in their capacity to influence European Affairs. Data from the register shows that an overwhelming majority of funds and organisations engaged in interest representation comes from the old Member States, which probably gives them a strong advantage in impacting the EU policymaking[12].

Finally, the fact that the Council so far has not set up any transparency register nor joined the common one has been called out by the European Ombudsman[13]. Ms O’Reilly stated that:

“It would be fitting for the institution that sets the EU political agenda also to have rules about who they meet.  Publishing information about these meetings would give the public a more complete picture of who is trying to influence EU decision-making, when and how.”

The question of the transparency of interest representation in European politics is complex, but the situation is evolving. MEP Danuta Hübner remarked that the EU institutions are already very transparent compared to national governments[14]. The EC has launched a proposal for an Interinstitutional Arrangement on a mandatory register in 2016 and a further consultation on the topic in 2017[15]. In that period, an equal degree of transparency for all actors seeking to influence the legislative process of the EU was demanded. Under pressure from the European Ombudsman, who has requested an answer to her letter by the 1st of March 2018, the Council has joined the initiative, and negotiations with the EC and EP will start early this year[16].



[1] Transparency register website : http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/homePage.do

[2] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2014.277.01.0011.01.ENG

[3] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52016PC0627

[4] http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/12/06/transparency-register-council-agrees-mandate-for-negotiations/

[5]https://ec.europa.eu/info/about-european-commission/service-standards-and-principles/transparency/transparency-register_en

[6]Code ‍of‍ Conduct:‍ http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/public/staticPage/displayStaticPage.do?locale=en&reference=CODE_OF_CONDUCT

[7]Making the Transparency Register as mandatory as possible, point 2.  http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2017-0358+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN  

[8] https://ec.europa.eu/info/about-european-commission/organisational-structure/commission-staff_en

[9] https://www.politico.eu/article/know-your-eu-lobbying-loopholes/

[10] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2017-0358+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN

[11]Rules‍‍‍ ‍of ‍Procedures‍ of‍ the‍ European ‍Parliament, ‍amended:‍http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2016-0484+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN

[12] https://www.politico.eu/article/transparency-register-analysis-lobbying-east-west-skew-european-union/

[13] https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/press/release.faces/en/87522/html.bookmark?si-related-doc=1

[14]https://www.euractiv.com/section/all/interview/hubner-the-european-union-is-more-transparent-than-national-governments/

[15] https://ec.europa.eu/info/consultations/proposal-mandatory-transparency-register_en

[16] Political representatives from the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission met on the 12th of December 2018 and agreed that negotiations on a mandatory EU Transparency Register can start early in 2018. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-5250_en.htm?locale=FR

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