Plans to establish a joint register of lobbyists for the European Parliament and the European Commission were today (11 May) formally given the green light at a plenary session of the EU assembly in Strasbourg, paving the way for the registry to go online in June.  

All lobbyists should be made to sign up to the transparency register and their exchanges with MEPs in charge of steering legislation through the Parliament listed in a "legislative footprint" annexed to parliamentary reports, the EU assembly decided.

Today's developments come as the European Parliament is still reeling from the cash-for-amendments scandal that led to the recent resignations of two MEPs.

Describing the new scheme as a transparency rather than a lobby register will make it easier for non-commercial organisations like think-tanks, churches, local authorities and political parties to sign up, the Parliament hopes.  

MEPs adopted by a show of hands a report drafted by Italian centre-right MEP Carlo Casini (European People's Party), which had already received unanimous backing from the Parliament's constitutional affairs committee last month.  

At present, more than 1,700 organisations are accredited as interest groups in the Parliament and around 3,900 are registered with the Commission.

Policymakers hope that introducing a common register for both institutions will make it easier for lobbyists to sign up and act as a stronger incentive to join.

The names of individuals will not be included, but the register will give details of the number of persons involved in lobbying activities as well as the amount of EU resources signatories have received. 

Broad scope of register

The scope of the register "covers all activities […] carried out with the objective of directly or indirectly influencing the formulation or implementation of policy and the decision-making processes of the EU institutions, irrespective of the channel or medium of communication used," reads the text of the joint agreement on establishing a transparency register.

Such activities include outsourcing, media, contracts with professional intermediaries, think-tanks, platforms, forums, campaigns and grassroots initiatives, the document states.

Among the activities covered are contacting MEPs, officials or other staff of the EU institutions, circulating letters, information material or position papers, and organising  social events or conferences, "invitations to which have been sent to Members, officials or other staff of the EU institutions".

"All organisations and self-employed individuals - irrespective of their legal status - engaged in activities falling within the scope of the register are expected to register," the document states.

The rules governing financial disclosure will be similar to those used by the Commission for its current lobby register.

Financial disclosure required

Professional consultancies, law firms and self-employed consultants will be required to detail their turnover attributable to the activities falling within the scope of the register in brackets of 50,000 euros if the total is below half a million, 100,000 if the total is between 0.5-1m, or in brackets of 250,000 if the total is above 1m.

In-house lobbyists and trade or professional associations must give an estimate of the cost of activities falling within the scope of the register.

Meanwhile NGOs, think tanks, research and academic institutions, organisations representing churches and religious communities and organisations representing local, regional and municipal authorities must specify their overall budget and provide a breakdown of their main sources of funding.

All registrants must disclose the amount and source of funding received from the EU institutions in the year closest to the date of registration.

No mandatory register

For now, the joint transparency register will be introduced only on a voluntary basis, despite the Parliament yesterday reiterating its call for mandatory registration of all lobbyists in the new common scheme. 

"A Green amendment calling for the register to be made mandatory as part of any future review was adopted and we will work to ensure this is implemented as soon as possible," said German Green MEP Gerald Häfner.

Meanwhile, the Parliament pointed out that the agreement "will provide a strong incentive for registration, since it will render it impossible for anyone to procure a badge giving access to Parliament without first registering".

Council urged to join register

The Parliament urged the Council of Ministers to join the common register "as soon as possible" and welcomed the fact that the Council has indicated it will do so.

Echoing the EU assembly's view, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who represented the EU executive during the inter-institutional negotiations that produced the agreement, said "the political signal that the three institutions are taking this issue so seriously and that they are going to tackle […] transparency together will be powerful".

The plenary also backed plans to annex a "legislative footprint" to reports drafted by MEPs detailing all the lobbyists with whom rapporteurs in charge of a particular file met in the process of drawing up the document.

The new joint register is expected to detail the number of individuals involved in activities declared in the register and the level of EU resources received by the registrant. It will also define clearly which activities are covered by the register and introduce procedures for handling complaints and sanctions.

The precise details of the above must still be finalised in ongoing inter-institutional negotiations, but yesterday's plenary vote provides a solid basis from which the discussions can proceed.

The Parliament and the Commission hope to get their joint lobby register online by June.

Andrew Williams