Plans to create a single lobby register for the EU executive and the European Parliament gained momentum yesterday (22 April) after representatives of both institutions agreed common guidelines and a code of conduct. But transparency campaigners labelled the proposals “very disappointing”.
The inter-institutional working group (IWG) set up to examine the feasibility of the scheme – comprising Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas, European Parliament Vice-President Diana Wallis (ALDE; UK), and German MEPs Jo Leinen (PES) and Ingo Friedrich (EPP-ED) – first met last December.
It has convened in private a total of four times since the Parliament first called for the creation of a mandatory public register common to all three institutions last May (EURACTIV 09/05/08).
Yesterday’s Strasbourg meeting, which was described by the participants as “constructive and productive”, agreed to create a single, ‘one-stop-shop’ register for both the Parliament and the Commission and drew up a draft code of conduct for its operation.
Common register will be voluntary…
While participation in the scheme will at first remain voluntary, “Parliament remains committed to the objective […] of a common mandatory register to be agreed between Council, Commission and Parliament,” according to a joint statement released yesterday by the IWG.
The statement makes clear “that each institution must retain control over access to its own premises,” meaning that lobbyists wishing to have regular access to Parliament “must, de facto, register” given that institution’s requirement for lobbyists to wear a badge while on its premises.
Indeed, the badge issue has long made the potential inclusion of individual names in any joint register a contentious issue in the transparency debate, with the Parliament’s requirement for individuals to obtain a personal badge to access its buildings making it less flexible than the Commission in this regard.
…and list individual names
The IWG agreed that the common register shall include names of the people “legally responsible” for the organisations listed, and where applicable, the name of their director, managing partner or principal contact person in Brussels.
It will also feature the names of those who have separately registered with the Parliament in order to receive a badge.
Another hotly-debated issue is that of financial disclosure.
The IWG agreed that the common scheme will require consultancies and law firms to declare their “turnover attributable to lobbying the EU institutions” alongside the “relative weight of their major clients,” while in-house lobbyists and trade associations will need to provide an “estimate of the costs associated with direct lobbying” in this regard.
NGOs and think-tanks, meanwhile, will have to publish their overall budgets and a “breakdown” of their main sources of funding.
The institutions also agreed to create a “common monitoring, complaints and sanctions mechanism” to address breaches of the code of conduct, with possible punitive action including “long-term suspension or exclusion from the register”.
Joint website launched
Pending the establishment of the proposed ‘one-stop-shop’, yesterday also saw the launch of a website on the EU’s Europa server giving joint access to the Commission and Parliament registers for the first time.
UK Liberal MEP Diana Wallis, the Parliament’s vice-president responsible for transparency, said the new webpage would give citizens a “more comprehensive insight into who is seeking to influence decision-making at EU level”.
The guidelines may be revised pending the outcome of the Commission’s review of its own register in June, with “final agreement” between the two institutions yet to be reached.
Council still outside scheme
The Council, which represents governments, did not participate in the IWG’s work. Many of its employees are seconded from national posts at home, making their inclusion in an EU register more difficult.
Reiterating their invitation to the Council to participate in the scheme, the Parliament and the Commission said they “strongly regret that the Council, as a co-legislator, has not yet been willing to join negotiations on a common register”.
Meanwhile, “work aimed at establishing [the single scheme for the Commission and the Parliament] should continue as early as possible in the next parliamentary term,” the joint statement concluded.