EU lobby register on track to becoming mandatory


A working group appointed to review the EU's transparency register has proposed a set of practical changes to the current database and called for making registration for lobby organisations mandatory by 2017.

The working group put forward its recommendations on Thursday (12 December) after six months of meetings, agreeing on a set of changes that should increase transparency in EU policymaking by shedding more light on the activities of lobbyists accredited with the EU institutions in Brussels.

In a list of around 30 improvements, the working group agreed on a number of changes:

  • Only organisations which are registered will be given access to the European Parliament and Commission;
  • Registered lobbyists should be allowed to give their input to the European Commission and the European Parliament more easily;
  • The data that lobby organisations disclose should be peer-reviewed and there should be a better system for outsiders to alert inaccuracies and file complaints;
  • Lobbyists who do not comply with the rules should be removed from the database and barred from the advantages offered by registration.

In its recommendations (see link below), the working group stipulates that the register should be made "unavoidable". It also presses the need for clarity, for example by adding a categorie for events and public relations agencies and by asking smaller organisations for a more detailed estimation of the money invested in lobbying.

“These improvements will increase trust and make the register more effective,” said Rainer Wieland, the working group’s chairman and vice-president of the European Parliament.

“My feeling is that we also took a lot of the concerns of stakeholders into account,” Wieland told EURACTIV.

Still, public affairs organisations will be able to register without disclosing their funding sources, as the recommendations only mention "registrants could be encouraged to provide as much detailed information as possible".  

Mandatory register in 2017

Throughout the review process, EU institutions and stakeholders debated ways to make registration compulsory. The joint working group promises to put forward a roadmap leading to such a mandatory register, Wieland said on Thursday.

The Council of the EU, which represents the bloc's 28 member states, will be asked to support a mandatory register at the beginning of next year. The Parliament and Council could then flesh out a legal base for compulsory registration but insiders believe it is unlikely that member states will follow suit.

In a second step, the European Commission will put forward a proposal to the Council of Ministers by 2016, asking member states to unanimously endorse a mandatory register, based on article 352 of the EU treaty. If they agree, the register could become mandatory by 2017. If not, a full review is scheduled in 2017.

Six months of review

Thursday (12 December) marked the last meeting of the joint working group on the transparency register, which was set up in June this year. The working group, which consisted of members of the European Parliament as well as Commission officials, was charged with reviewing the lobbying database.

The register has grown considerably since it came into effect in June 2011. It now has around 6,000 entries, which makes up an estimated 75% of Brussels’ business representatives and 60% of NGOs. The figure matches a rough number of 30,000 lobbyists in Europe’s capital.

The EU’s transparency register is as part of a number of innovations to strengthen transparency and openness in European policymaking. Brussels is estimated to be the second largest city in the world for lobbyists, after Washington, although definitions of lobbying may vary.

The EU has been looking at ways to incorporate stakeholders – NGOs, civil society and business representatives – in its decision making, while boosting efforts to increase transparency.

The president of the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA), Karl Isaksson,  “welcomes the group’s intention to make the register mandatory, a position that we have supported for a long time. We would like to have seen further progress towards a mandatory register, but nonetheless welcome the proposed incentives – both carrots and sticks – for organisations to register. We believe these measures will encourage even more organisations to sign up.”

Susanna Di Feliciantonio, president of the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP), says: “SEAP recognises the need for incentives. We had proposed linking registration to speaker engagement, events and participation in expert groups. It is good to see the working group strongly endorsed this. It is a pity however that recommendation 17 reverses who should be proactive in finding out if an organisation is registered”, referring to the wording that registrants should themselves quote their registration number - which officials and MEPs are not demanded to ask.

The European transparency register came into effect in June 2011.

The register is a database of lobby firms, individuals, NGOs and other organisations working to influence EU legislation in Brussels. It currently has around 6,000 registered organisations.

In June 2013, the European Commission and Parliament appointed a joint working group to review the transparency register.

The group held a series of meetings starting in August which culminated with a final meeting on 12 December.

  • 14-17 April 2014: Last plenary session of the European Parliament, and provisional deadline to approve the set of improvements to the register
  • End 2016: Target date for the European Commission to put forward a proposal to make the register mandatory
  • End 2017: Target date for the next full review of the Transparency Register

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