EU lobbyist register to become mandatory by 2017

Tar sands lobbt protest. Brussels, September 2010. [Corporate Europe Observatory/Flickr]

Lobbyists trying to influence EU policymakers will soon have to disclose details on their budget and methods, after the European Parliament approved tougher rules and called on the Commission to make the EU’s lobby register mandatory by 2017.

With an overwhelming majority of 646 out of 667 votes cast, the European Parliament approved new measures that will make life more difficult for lobbyists who are not registered in the EU’s transparency register.

Parliament will implement a new set of rules in order to encourage lobbyists to sign up. These include:

  • Restricting access to Parliament buildings for non-registered organisations;
  • Encouraging MEPs to get lobbyists with whom they meet, to sign up to the register;
  • Facilitating access to information for registered lobbyists, allowing them to co-host events in Parliament more easily and to participate in public hearings;
  • Restricting the Parliament’s representation at events hosted by non-registered organisations.

Italian MEP Roberto Gualtieri (S&D), who is responsible for the update of the transparency register, called it “an important step forward”. He added that the new measures serve as “an incentive system, balanced by a requirement for high standards of transparency and behaviour from those who register.”

Parliament also pushes the Commission to take similar measures to urge interest groups to register.

On track to become mandatory

Both Parliament and interest groups have repeatedly called to make the Transparency Register mandatory, but this requires the consent of member states.

Though the EU Commission has dodged the issue in recent months, MEPs are now calling on the Commission to prepare a proposal by the end of 2016, which would make registration mandatory for Brussels-based interest groups.

In December, a joint working group of the European Parliament and the Commission completed a review of the Transparency Register, which included a roadmap to force member states into endorsing obligatory registration.

The European Commission’s proposal will ask member states to unanimously support such a 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.

Details need to be checked rigorously

Even with these efforts to make the register more robust, insiders have flagged a lack of scrutiny on the information lobbyists are providing.

Transparency watchdogs have flagged offenses and misinformation in the past, which slip through the cracks of the register’s control.

The EU Parliament vice-president responsible for the review process, Rainer Wieland, told EURACTIV in an earlier interview that “if you want true policing – not just on the complaints or cases flagged by outsiders – you need more resources”. The need for more muscle was confirmed by sources in the register’s administration

Register still growing

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 Brussels.

The EU’s transparency register is one of a number of innovations, intended 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.

In a reaction to Tuesday’s vote, the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP) said it continues to oppose the call for a mandatory registration. “It should not be about coercion and compliance,” said vice-president Philip Sheppard. “Moreover, in this old debate, we have heard time and again about the lack of legal basis and the negative consequences on freedom of access to policy makers that a mandatory register would imply”.

The president of the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA), Karl Isaksson, said “it is extremely encouraging that the European Parliament continues to support the establishment of a mandatory register. EPACA looks forward to both the implementation of strengthened incentives for registrants and eventually a mandatory register that will help create a level playing field, and to continued cooperation with the European Parliament in putting transparency at the very centre of EU decision-making.”

Pam Bartlett Quintanilla of Access Info Europe, member of umbrella organisation ALTER-EU, said: “After the very disappointing outcome of the review of the EU's lobby register in December, the Parliament's resolution today is good news for the chances to achieve genuine lobby transparency in the future. After the elections next month, the new Parliament should work hard to make the new Commission commit to transparency reforms”.

Max Bank of LobbyControl, also a ALTER-EU member, said: “Contrary to the European Commission, in this resolution the Parliament shows political will to fix the many shortcomings of the current EU lobby register. Transparency must become an obligation for all lobbyists working to influence the EU's decision-making”.

The European transparency register came into effect in June 2011, as part of a series of efforts to boost integrity of the institutions under the European Transparency Initiative.

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.

  • End 2016: Target date for the European Commission to put forward a proposal to make the register mandatory
  • 2017: Target date for the next full review of the Transparency Register

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