Three years after it started applying minimum standards on public consultation to all its major legislative proposals (2003), the Commission is seeking feedback to assess the effectiveness of the new policy.
In a Green Paper on EU transparency, published in May 2006, Anti-fraud and Administrative Affairs Commissioner Siim Kallas invited interested parties to comment on the new rules and see whether they can be improved. The main challenges, as spelt out by the Commission when it adopted the standards four years ago, are:
- to involve all relevant interests in society by providing them with an opportunity to express their views. These concern "civil society organisations" defined broadly as encompassing trade unions, employers federations, NGOs, human rights organisations, community-based organisations, grassroots organisations (e.g.: youth, family and religious) as well as businesses
- to ensure adequate and equitable treatment of participants in consultation processes to reduce the risk of policy-makers just listening to one side of the argument or of particular groups getting privileged access to policy-makers
However, Kallas believes that formalising consultations with interested parties also implies transparency on behalf of those being consulted. "Groups or persons […] that offer advice, represent clients, provide data or defend public causes should also be accountable. People are allowed to know who they are, what they do and what they stand for," Commissioner Kallas said in a speech announcing the European Transparency Initiative on 3 March 2005.
At the moment, only basic information is offered on the organisations consulted regularly by the Commission. The information is accessible on an internet directory called CONECCS (Consultation, the European Commission and Civil Society) which lists the bodies that are consulted in a more or less formal manner. They include:
- Formal bodies:
- Less formal bodies:
On CONECCS, basic data can be found on the nature of the organisations (denomination, legal status), the interest they represent (objectives, policy areas) and the Commission consultative bodies in which they participate.
However, registration is done on a voluntary basis only, which means some pressure groups or individual lobbyists can choose not to appear on CONECCS. The register is not intended as a means of accreditation to EU institutions nor does it provide detailed information as to how the organisations are financed, which is one of the crucial points where Kallas would like to see progress made. Moreover, CONNECS concerns organisations consulted by the Commission, but not the ones active in the Parliament which runs its own accreditation scheme and gives only rough information on accredited lobbyists on its website.
In his Green Paper on a European Transparency Initiative, Commissioner Kallas proposes streamlining all those schemes under a single one, managed by the Commission. He proposes a self-regulation system based on voluntary registration, where lobbyists would declare their objectives, their funding sources, the interests they stand for and their contributions to EU institutions' activities. There would be "clear incentives for lobbyists to register", including automatic alerts of consultations on issues of known interest to the lobbyists.