Maroš Šef?ovi?, European Commission vice-president responsible for inter-institutional relations and administration, told EURACTIV in an interview that the EU executive would be working "very intensively" to create a common lobby register with the European Parliament by 2011 "at the latest" (EURACTIV 10/05/10).
Šef?ovi? suggested that the joint register was unlikely to be mandatory as preferred by the European Parliament. "For us it is very difficult to proceed with a mandatory system because we don't have a legal basis for that. It's not in the treaty," he said.
The Transparency Initiative, launched in 2005, represents then-Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas's attempt to increase the openness and accessibility of the EU institutions, raise awareness of bloc's budget spending and generally make the EU more accountable to the public.
In the Green Paper, Kallas warned that compulsory regulation could be introduced if lobbyists fail to establish appropriate self-regulatory instruments, including codes of conduct, common principles and a voluntary register (EURACTIV 04/05/06). He also urged member states to disclose lists of CAP beneficiaries (EURACTIV 03/05/06).
Kallas further stated: "Through co-operation on the register, we can resist any campaign to outlaw or discredit legitimate interest representation, and we can ensure a solid, sustainable foundation for the credibility and legitimacy of the business. We can keep the EU institutions open and accessible without daily contacts between us being subjected to bureaucratic hurdles. And by acting now, in the absence of a lobbying 'scandal', we can help to prevent scandals and we can address the ever-increasing level of lobbying of EU institutions in a cool-headed, analytical state of mind."
Despite pressure from lobbying groups, Kallas refused to compromise on financial disclosure. "If spending money on lobbying brings no influence, I wonder what the lobby professionals say to their clients when they bill them?," he recently asked the European Parliament, adding that the proposed regulation was "very light" by international standards.
A European Parliament report on lobbying calls for inclusion in the EU executive's lobbyists register to be made mandatory. It should also be common to the Parliament, Council and Commission, it says, proposing that a joint working group be set up to examine how this could be done (reporting by the end of the year).
The European Centre for Public Affairs (ECPA), European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association (EPACA) and the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP) called for "a single register of interest representations" to be established "for all EU institutions", with "a clear legal base and proper impact assessment". In a joint letter addressed to the Commission, Parliament and Council on 8 February 2008, they expressed their concern that "varying proposals" would "create confusion and complexity" and "fail to provide the required transparency."
The European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association (EPACA), which represents 34 PA companies with offices in Brussels, says it is "fundamental" to establish an overarching code of conduct that would apply to "all individuals and organisations involved in lobbying the EU institutions". On 16 August 2007, it recommended all of its members to boycott the lobbyists' register, labelling it "discriminatory and unworkable" (EURACTIV 23/08/07).
EPACA supports the registration of employees involved in lobbying and the disclosure of client lists. However, the demands for the provision of commercially sensitive financial information are not practicable within a voluntary framework. EPACA is not opposed to financial disclosure per se but says this is only workable if lobbying becomes a fully regulated profession, in which requirements are mandatory for all (including lawyers, in-house consultants, NGOs and public affairs consultancies).
Brussels lobbying veteran Daniel Guéguen, CEO of CLAN Public Affairs and chairman of the European Training Institute, thinks reforms should go much further and insists that a professional body for lobbyists will become all the more essential as public affairs professionals in Brussels are expected to adopt much tougher and, sometimes, borderline strategies.
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) - a coalition of 80 civil society groups led by the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) - launched a campaign to support Commissioner Kallas's transparency initiative. The coalition pushes for the introduction of mandatory disclosure rules for lobbyists as a way to "end corporate privileges and secrecy around lobbying in the European Union".
ALTER-EU urges the Commission to introduce of a fully searchable electronic public register, detailing all lobbyists with significant annual budgets, to "enable democratic scrutiny of inputs into EU policy-making."
Speaking on the lobby register's second anniversary on 22 June 2010, Olivier Hoedeman of CEO said "when two years after the launch of the register only a minority of Brussels lobbyists are registered, it is clear that the voluntary approach has failed".
"The European Commission must now make a commitment to introduce a mandatory lobby transparency system that enables European citizens to see who is influencing EU decision-making, on which issues, on whose behalf and with what budgets," Hoedeman continued.
Also speaking on the register's second anniversary, Natacha Cingotti of Friends of the Earth Europe said "it is high time to close the loopholes and tighten the weak financial disclosure requirements which allow lobby groups to disguise the size of their lobbying effort".
Weak financial disclosure rules also "make it impossible to determine who the biggest spenders really are and which policies they are trying to influence," Cingotti added.
In an interview with EURACTIV, Friends of the Earth's Paul de Clerck - a leading member of ALTER-EU - said NGOs were ready to move to a compulsory registration system (EURACTIV 26/07/05). ALTER-EU also promotes an improved code of conduct for EU commissioners that would include "an extended 'cooling off' period before commissioners and senior officials can start working for lobby groups or lobbying advisory firms.
Julia Bateman of the joint Brussels office of the UK Law Societies said: "Lawyers are concerned that the proposed definition of lobbying will extend to decision-making in the context of individual court cases and Commission decisions."
The UK Law Societies have been discussing such problems with the Commission. Bateman said the EU executive had asked them to come up with a definition of lobbying that better reflected the day-to-day reality of lawyers' work in Brussels. "We are seeking a practical solution that will ensure that lawyers are in a position to make a distinction between 'pure' lobbying work in relation to new legislative proposals, and advisory and court work for clients," Bateman added.
Commenting on the Commission's October 2009 review of its register, Tom Spencer, executive director of the European Centre for Public Affairs (ECPA), said the outcome reflected Kallas's attempts to "maximise his legacy and reputation" before assuming the transport portfolio in the Barroso II Commission.
"Kallas would like to see the changes come into effect immediately, because ending the distinction between direct and indirect lobbying would quadruple the number of lobbyists in the register and benefit his legacy," Spencer told EURACTIV in December 2009.