Meetings between MEPs and lobbyists to be made public

Plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. [Shutterstock]

A revision of the European Parliament’s rules of procedure, which was adopted on 31 January, increases transparency obligations for meetings between elected officials and lobbies, despite the EPP’s attempts to scupper the amendment. EURACTIV France reports.

Agendas for meetings between MEPs and interest representatives will be made public. That is in spite of the secret ballot imposed by the European People’s Party on the revision of the Parliament’s rules. MEPs adopted the transparency measure by a very small majority.

The amendment, which was only adopted by four votes, stipulated that chairs of parliamentary committees, rapporteurs and shadow reporters must publish a list of their meetings with interest representatives for all ongoing legislative work.

This measure aims to highlight the influence of lobbies on legislation by listing the number of meetings held between policymakers and the various stakeholders for a dossier.

“We have just taken a new important step in the field of transparency. Citizens will now be able to better follow the work of their elected representatives with information about the interest groups they meet,” said Pascale Durand, vice-chair of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance.

“This victory was literally snatched from the right, which not only supported maintaining the lack of transparency, but also brought dishonour on itself by requesting a secret ballot on the transparency of meetings with lobbies. This was a first in this parliamentary term!” Durand added.

The adopted reform on transparency should also restart discussions about establishing a compulsory register of lobbies for the three European institutions.

Currently, a transparency register contains around 11,000 lobbies. European Commissioners and senior officials at the Commission are required to meet only those lobbies included in the register and to give public notification of any meetings.

The European Parliament must guarantee full transparency of lobbying

Christian Beck and Sven Giegold explain the stakes of a strategic vote in the European Parliament taking place today (31 January).

But the idea of extending this arrangement to the two other institutions – the European Council and the Parliament – has made little progress.

Yesterday’s vote means that negotiations about having a common register can resume, tweeted a pleased Sylvie Guillaume, a vice-president of the Parliament.

“Excellent news! The majority of the #EuropeanParliament SUPPORTED more transparency in the legislative process. Negotiations on the transparency #Register can now finally resume. Time is short. @danutahuebner @TimmermansEU @geociamba,” Guillaume tweeted.

“The European Commission now has to resume negotiations on the European transparency register,” said Margarida Silva, researcher and campaigner at the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO).

“President [of the European Commission] Juncker promised this to European citizens and there’s work to do over the next few months. We hope that the three institutions will redouble their efforts and propose a better register,” she added.

Dissolving political groups

The other controversial issue put to the vote was the amendment tabled by Jo Leinen (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats).

The amendment, which would have allowed parliamentary groups to be dissolved if they do not contain MEPs who share “political affinity”, was not adopted.

This provision targeted political groups formed of political parties who do not have real “political affinity” and only join together in order to enjoy the benefits of being an official group.

The move would have had a very significant impact on the next parliamentary term. It had been denounced as an attack by well-established groups on less powerful ones, such as the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group (EFDD), a Eurosceptic group which notably includes the Italian Five Star Movement (M5S).

Fabio Massimo Castaldo, another vice-president of the Parliament and member of M5S, was pleased that the amendment was defeated and that the EU assembly would not be entering a “dictatorship of the majority”, where large groups could “decide arbitrarily if it keeps alive or not political groups that are not aligned with the mainstream.”

However, the groups that would have been directly affected by these measures were not the only ones to express criticism. Sven Giegold, a Green MEP, said that his group had voted against the amendment. “In terms of état de droit, it is thus very doubtful,” he considered.

Initially, it was a matter of defining “political affinity,” but, as the criteria were not supported by a majority, they were dropped. The amendment would have been “a blank cheque to the political majority”, the German MEP insisted.

“This is not the right way to deal with growing populism,” he added.

Group advantages

MEPs join together to form political groups, which are supposed to represent the same general ideas.

This is how the socialist parties from every member state formed the S&D group and the parties of the centre-right (and also the right) established the EPP.

A minimum of 25 MEPs from at least a quarter of the member states are required to form a group. Groups then choose chairs, who then join the Conference of Presidents, the Parliament’s governing body.

If a group has more members, this means that its chair’s voice will carry more weight during votes. For example, large groups are therefore more likely to secure the chairs of important committees.

In addition to benefitting from being represented at the Conference of Presidents, forming a group also allows them to have access to additional funding.

The funding made available to these groups is not only intended to cover the administrative and operational costs of the group’s employees, but also the costs of political and public information activities related to EU policy.

Edited by Sam Morgan

Further Reading

Timmermans: Increasing transparency on lobbying will boost credibility of institutions

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans insisted on the need to implement full transparency about lobbying in all European institutions, including the Parliament and the Council, at a conference on Thursday (21 June).

The Commission has no answer to the opaque lobbying of law firms

The European Commission needs to enforce a strict incentives-based regime that will encourage more lobbying law firms to enroll in the EU's transparency register, writes Nina Katzemich.

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