Campaigners have seized on the Abramoff bribery scandal in Washington to urge US-style disclosure rules on Brussels lobbyists. But others say it only underlines deep differences between European and US party financing rules.
The Abramoff lobbying bribery scandal in Washington broke out at a time when the EU is contemplating stricter rules to oversee the at times ambiguous relations between pressure groups and policy-makers in Brussels.
“If we act early, Europe could perhaps avoid what is now happening in Washington,” the spokesperson for Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas told the Financial Times on Wednesday (18 January).
The Estonian Commissioner is preparing to open a wide-ranging debate on EU transparency with the launch of a green paper in February. The paper will raise a number of issues, including whether to impose US-style mandatory controls on the estimated 15,000 lobbyists trying to influence EU policy-makers in Brussels.
The rules currently under consideration would mimic the US system by requiring pressure groups, PA firms and single lobbyists in Brussels to register in a central database and disclose how much money they receive and who they receive it from.
Public affairs professionals have so far resisted the idea, saying self-imposed codes of conduct provide enough guarantees against wrongdoing. They argue that the Commission and other EU institutions should clean up their act first and impose stricter controls on their own officials before taking care of the PA profession.
But their arguments were dismissed by Kallas. “Registers provided by lobbyists’ organisations in the EU are voluntary and incomprehensive and do not provide much information on the specific interests represented or how it is financed. Self imposed codes of conduct have few signatories and have so far lacked serious sanctions,” Kallas said in an October 2005 speech.
“The same goes for Non Governmental Organisations,” he added. “Some of the NGOs receiving funds from the Commission describe on their website one of their main tasks as: ‘lobbying the Commission’. The ‘European Transparency Initiative’ seeks to increase transparency in these networks,” he declared.