EU lobbying transparency endgame expected by 2010

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As the European Commission prepares to unveil its voluntary lobbyists register next month, Brussels insiders say no meaningful decisions are to be expected before the next Commission is appointed in autumn 2009.

The EU executive plans to introduce a lobbyists register and code of conduct in June in an effort to bolster the transparency of the European institutions and decision-making processes (EURACTIV 09/05/08). 

Siim Kallas, the commissioner in charge of administration and anti-fraud, said the register, which will initially remain purely voluntary, will be introduced for a one-year ‘experimental phase’ at the end of which the Commission will assess whether it has been effective in increasing the transparency of lobbying activities in Brussels. 

But EU insiders are now saying this will effectively mean the ‘hot potato’ will be passed on to the next Commission, which will be appointed after the European elections in June 2009. 

“A review in twelve months effectively means a review in the late autumn of 2009 at the earliest, by which time of course they will have a new commissioner,” said a Brussels source familiar with the matter. 

In a report adopted earlier in May, the European Parliament called for a mandatory public register common to all three institutions to be drawn up by the end of the year. An inter-institutional working group will examine how this can be done. 

But despite this ambitious timetable, it is unlikely the French will make the lobbying dossier a priority of their EU Presidency, the insider said, meaning that the EU Council of Ministers is unlikely to adopt conclusions on the matter before the Swedish Presidency in the second half of 2009. 

“From all this, I conclude that the debate will be prolonged through into the autumn of 2009 and the spring of 2010. I suspect that we are in for an extended public debate stretching over the next two years,” the source stated. 

Meanwhile, details of the depth of financial disclosure required by Kallas’s register have emerged. Press reports indicate that interest representatives will have to declare how much funding they receive from each client to the nearest €50,000 euros – in bands of €0-49,000, €50,000-99,000, €100,000-149,000 and so on. Consultancies will be asked to declare the percentage of annual lobbying income received from a particular client in bands of 10%. 

Public affairs consultancies welcomed this development, expressing satisfaction that an amendment calling for more detailed financial disclosure was withdrawn from the adopted version of Parliament’s report. The European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA) said the amendment’s “very narrow, almost intrusive parameters” for financial disclosure “would have required disclosure of commercially sensitive information for consultants”. “Any financial disclosure should respect contractual and privacy obligations between clients and their consultants,” EPACA added in a statement. 

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