Cefic, the association representing the EU chemicals industry, was this week (20 July) temporaily suspended from the European Commission’s voluntary lobbyists’ register for allegedly failing to accurately document its expenditure on interest representation.
The Commission’s decision, which sees Cefic suspended from the register for two months, followed a complaint from Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE), an environmental NGO, that the association’s estimate of its annual lobbying expenditure was “unrealistically low”.
The EU executive contacted Cefic after being notified by FOEE that the association – which represents 29,000 companies, employs over 170 staff and has an annual budget of 37.9m euros – had estimated its total costs related to lobbying the European institutions in 2007 at less than 50,000 euros.
In its reply to FOEE, the Commission admitted to having “received some information from Cefic that led it to consider that the [chemical lobby’s] declaration […] may indeed raise problems as regards its estimation of expenditures, which appears to be underestimated”.
“Cefic didn’t contest [the assertion] that this figure is an underestimate,” so the Commission decided to temporarily suspend the association until it “updates the details,” Valérie Rampi, spokesperson for EU Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas, told EURACTIV.
“It is up to each organisation to provide precise and accurate figures [on lobbying expenditure]. The Commission does not do the accounting for them,” she stressed.
Rampi explained that Cefic had been suspended from the register until September, when the EU executive would readmit the association if it were deemed to have updated its entry to comply with the rules.
She said the EU executive would investigate the allegations. “The important thing is that the complaint mechanism is working,” she added.
Financial compliance ‘very difficult’
Asked by EURACTIV to respond to its exclusion from the register, a representative of the chemicals body explained that “the complexity of the network of a trade association like Cefic and the variety of missions it has makes the financial declaration, as currently designed, very difficult”.
“Cefic works together with national and sectoral associations and provides to its members a large diversity of services in order to comply with the EU regulatory framework,” the representative said.
Expressing support for the European Transparency Initiative, the industry group said it preferred to invite interested parties to look at its total budget and resources “to ensure full transparency on our global activities”. Specifying a lobbying budget would not really reflect the “complex nature” of Cefic’s activities, it added.
Instead, the chemicals lobby invited interested parties “to have a look at our total budget and resources” as detailed on its website, information that it has been making public “for years” in accordance with Belgian legislation.
Calling on Cefic to be excluded from future lobby events, Paul de Clerck, corporates campaigner at FOEE, accused the chemicals group of “not being at all transparent” about its lobby work.
“Before submitting the complaint to the Commission, Friends of the Earth Europe asked Cefic for a clarification of their lobby budget. Cefic never responded to this request,” FOEE said in a statement.
“If the Commission takes its own lobby register seriously, it should sanction Cefic for its false registration. Cefic should be excluded from all further lobby events, as it is not respecting today’s transparency rules,” de Clerck said.
“They made a joke of the Commission’s lobby register by reporting a completely false lobby budget. We are pleased to see that the Commission is not accepting this type of behaviour,” he added.
Cefic said it would reconsider its current position once it had received “the official statement of the Commission and clearer guidance”.