Commission adopts code of conduct for EU lobbyists

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The European Commission has adopted a code of conduct regulating lobbyists’ behaviour as a forerunner to the voluntary register to be launched by Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas on 23 June.

The ‘Code of Conduct for Interest Representatives‘, officially adopted on 28 May, contains “clear and precise rules” for lobbyists to follow in their relations with Commission staff, according to the EU executive. 

In doing so, it sets out general principles like “openness, honesty and integrity” to be adhered to when dealing with the Commission. 

“This is not about the Commission telling lobbyists how to behave,” stressed Commissioner Kallas. “In fact, we have only consolidated in one text the principles the profession itself already adheres to.” 

Lobbyists intending to participate in the EU executive’s upcoming lobbyists register will be required to accept the terms of the accompanying code of conduct for interest representatives. What’s new, said Kallas, is that “all lobbyists commit to the same code and accept that their adherence to [it] be subject to independent scrutiny, enforcement and sanctions”. 

The adopted code calls on those lobbying the Commission to: 

  • Identify themselves by name and by the entity(ies) they work for or represent; 
  • Not misrepresent themselves as to the effect of registration to mislead third parties and/or EU staff; 
  • Declare the interests, and where applicable the clients or the members, which they represent; 
  • Ensure that, to the best of their knowledge, information which they provide is unbiased, complete, up-to-date and not misleading; 
  • Not obtain or try to obtain information, or any decision, dishonestly; 
  • Not induce EU staff to contravene rules and standards of behaviour applicable to them; 
  • If employing former EU staff, respect their obligation to abide by the rules and confidentiality requirements which apply to them. 

The code of conduct is intended to complement the lobbyists register the Commission is set to publish on 23 June and constitutes part of the wider transparency initiative launched by Vice President Kallas in 2005. 

"We have nothing against the EC Code [of Conduct] and will surely abide by it," said Tom Antonissen of LOGOS Public Affairs (of which one of the partners, José Lalloum, is currently chairing EPACA), indicating that his organisation's own code of conduct is "more stringent and demanding" than the Commission equivalent.

Antonissen continued: "Even though a lobbyist can tick the box saying he adheres to an equivalent code to that of the Commission, it will still mean this lobbyist will be subject to the EC Code and can be held accountable to the seven rules in there."

Expressing disappointment with the adopted version of the code, Erik Wesselius  of Corporate Europe Observatory described its requirements as "too weak" and "ambiguous". 

Regarding the precise definition of lobbyists, Wesselius told EURACTIV "it is unclear whether interest representatives are individuals or organisations". Moreover, he suggested that it is unclear whether interest representatives would have to sign up to the Commission’s own code or simply abide by their own professional equivalent. 

Wesselius points to the wording of the text, which states: "Registrants agree to abide by this Code or declare that they already abide by a professional code that has comparable rules." 

Finally, Wesselius questions the feasibility of the code's demand that lobbyists ensure that the information they provide is 'unbiased'. "This is a paradox as [lobbyists] are representing an interest," he said. 

Paul de Clerk  of Friends of the Earth Europe, a member of the steering committee of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), told EURACTIV that the code is "disappointing"."It took the Commission almost a year to come up with a code that falls even behind the existing voluntary codes of conduct devised by the lobbying associations themselves," de Clerk said. 

"The code does not say anything to prevent conflicts of interest, offering financial inducements or other forms of inproper influence and does not include adopting a cooling off period for employing former Commission staff," he stated, adding: "This code shows that the Commission is adopting its transparency policies merely to the demands of the professional lobby firms." 

When the EU executive published its draft code earlier this year, the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association (EPACA) raised concerns over its precise definition of lobbying, stressing the "need to differentiate representation activities from the more general services our consultancies provide to their clients". 

The Commission's 'Code of Conduct for Interest Representatives' was adopted on 28 May after public consultations held between December 2007 and February 2008. 

It complements the EU executive's voluntary lobbyists register, set to follow on 23 June (EURACTIV 29/05/08EURACTIV 09/05/08). 

Both initiatives form part of the wider transparency initiative launched by Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas in 2005. 

  • 23 June 2008: Commission to launch voluntary lobbyists register.

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