Parliament VP: If you want true lobby policing, you need more resources

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A review of the EU’s Transparency Register, due to be completed in December, has highlighted divisions on key issues such as the compulsory registration of lobbyists. Rainer Wieland, a German MEP working on the review, says such questions could be postponed to a later date.

Rainer Wieland (EPP, Germany) is vice-president of the European Parliament, and coordinates the MEPs representing the Parliament in the joint working group that reviews the EU Transparency Register. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Laurens Cerulus.

>> Read also: Transparency review to 'make life difficult' for Brussels lobbyists

What is your assessment of the progress made to review and reform the EU transparency register?

In October, I presented a state of play and this was received without objections. But there is a little less than two weeks to go and we are still seeing that a lot of progress is still being made – a lot is still in motion.

What we are aiming for in the end, is to have a package that carries a broad support, also outside of the working group. Unfortunately – and I’m a bit unhappy about this – there has been a lot of pressure due to public remarks. After every meeting, members of the working group stepped out and made public remarks on the internal discussions.

We agreed to work on the basis that nothing is agreed until all is agreed. I won’t make any public remarks on what will be in the package deal, because these are a very delicate issue we’re discussing. On many issues, the working group is split with half of the members in favour and the other half opposed. In this case, it is counterproductive to constantly make public remarks on the topics on the table.

Having a mandatory register is one of the essential elements. Will it be part of the deal, or will it be addressed as a second step in the process of reforming the register? 

Well, there has been a lot of discussion on this, and some have other opinions than others. We have looked into the issue of whether there is legal basis to establish a mandatory register. But [to have legal backing] we have to approach the EU Council as well.

What could be a possibility in the final deal is to bring forward an agreement that includes suggestions for the long term. And to make sure that we explore certain issues at an appropriate time.

There is also a possibility to get the EU Council closer involved. We can’t get them on board, but should aim to get them “closer to” board, so to speak. There is a saying that “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together” – that’s the case here.

We have a real chance to come up with conclusions that will surprise some people. But people should keep in mind that our approach is a long-term one.

Critics often claim that the information contained on the register is not detailed enough. Do you agree the data is limited in terms of opening up the workings of lobbyists and campaigns? 

That is part of a whole discussion, but there are many practical obstacles in this as well, that people tend to forget. If we require very detailed information, or an update on that information every three months, small players won’t be able to handle the workload. In that case, you block them out.

The current register catches many small players such as individual consultants, NGOs and think tanks. However, public opinion seems more concerned about large lobbying campaigns. Should the EU consider having a smaller register that would be easier to check and monitor?

Well, then too, the question arises on how to police this. And the same issue is at play: you need a solid legal basis to do this – we can’t just go ahead without it. Just to mention one complication, companies also have a right to protect certain information.

And if you want true policing – not just on the complaints or cases flagged by outsiders, but also constant monitoring of the register – you need more resources.

Will the working group take a stance on the fact that the register’s secretariat is understaffed? 

The lack of resources is an issue. There could be recommendations on this in the working group’s conclusions. But as I said: up until this point, things are too close to call. We’ll have to wait and see how it develops during the last weeks of the review process.

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