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10/12/2016

European Parliament quietly scuppers lobbying reform

Public Affairs

European Parliament quietly scuppers lobbying reform

If the report on transparency will ever be voted on is now doubtful.

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The European Parliament has indefinitely postponed a vote on an initiative that was meant to bring clarity to MEPs’ side activities and rein in lobbyists. But no one wants to shoulder the blame. EurActiv Germany reports.

Attempts to bring lobbyists to heel surprisingly ground to a halt Tuesday night (13 September) when three of the European Parliament’s biggest political groups decided to postpone the reform.

The EPP (centre-right), S&D (centre-left) and ALDE (liberal) groups all agreed to suspend, indefinitely, a vote in the Committee on Constitutional Affairs that would have centred on a report produced by MEP Sven Giegold (Greens/EFA).

The report proposed serious changes to the way lobbyists interact with Brussels lawmakers and to what extent officials can engage in side activities.

Although it was known that the report had been met with little enthusiasm by the EPP, a few days ago it was still assumed that the vote would go ahead regardless. According to Giegold, the S&D group had indicated they would support it in an email sent on 8 September by Mercedes Bresso, member of the AFCO Committee.

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Giegold added that internal sources had informed him that group leaders Manfred Weber (EPP), Gianni Pittella (S&D) and Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE) had all come to a consensus on indefinitely postponing the vote.

The report had called for more stringent transparency standards to be established at EU level and for the influence of lobbyists on Brussels policy to be heavily restricted.

One of the flagship proposals of Giegold’s report was the introduction of a so-called legislative footprint and a three-year limit on MEPs switching to lobby groups once their term in office expired. The legislative footprint would detail how much contact lobby groups have on policy and to what extent legislation has been affected by stakeholders.

Negotiating positions and mandates would also have to be published online before each round of negotiations, so the public could monitor the progress of deals like the much-maligned TTIP talks.

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All of this appears to be dead in the water, now that the vote has been indefinitely pulled. Giegold put much of the blame on the EPP, which he accused of wanting to prevent “real progress” in lobby control. He added that the “reputation of the Parliament has been endangered”.

In fact, a few days before the planned vote, the EPP brought in some amendments that completely gutted the crucial parts of the report.

For example, in Giegold’s report, lobbying side activities for MEPs would have been “expressly prohibited”, but this was changed to “renegotiated”. It also completely diluted the section on the legislative footprint and instead made a vague plea for “more transparency”.

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The EPP denied that it was blocking attempts to rein in lobbyists.

When contacted by EurActiv.de, the EPP’s representative on AFCO, György Schöpflin, denied that the EPP had removed “the core-elements of the report” and had instead looked for “the best possible wording”.

The Hungarian politician added that his group was looking for support in the Parliament so that the measure could be pushed through. How this can be achieved by indefinitely suspending the vote is not clear.

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S&D MEP Jo Leinen said that his group had supported the call to postpone the vote because only “viable majorities” can make the EU more transparent. The risk of Giegold’s report being totally rejected had influenced their decision. The issue of transparency is too important to be “politically exploited”.

Whether Giegold’s report will ever get a chance now remains to be seen, the vote may be rescheduled or it could be lost amongst the political wrangling of the main groups.