EU seeks to broaden lobbyist register rules

Frans Timmermans. [European Commission]

The EU unveiled plans Wednesday (28 September) to make lobbyists register before meeting a wider range of top officials, after a series of high-profile cases concerning the transparency of ex-Commissioners.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, already makes lobbyists for businesses, trade groups and NGOs register before meeting senior officials.

But it wants to extend that rule to both the European Parliament and to the European Council, which represents the leaders of the 28 member states.

“Citizens have the right to know who tries to influence EU law-making,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told a news conference.

“We propose a simple rule. No meeting with decision-makers without prior registration,” he added. “Those who don’t play by the rules risk being suspended from meeting with EU institutions or removed from the register altogether.”

The proposal comes after the former European Commission head José Manuel Barroso took an advisory position at US investment bank Goldman Sachs, causing a furore over conflict of interest.

More recently it emerged that former EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes had been a director of a Bahamas-based firm during her tenure from 2004 to 2009.

The Commission will next be discussed with the European Parliament and the European Council.

The anti-corruption organisation Transparency International dismissed the plans as “timid” and “cosmetic”.

“After the Kroes and Barroso scandals, the Commission had the chance to prove it is committed to more transparency and better ethics,” said the group’s Daniel Freund.

The Corporate Europe Observatory, a research group looking at the influence of corporations on EU institutions, said the “vast majority of lobby meetings will still be off the radar and unregistered lobbyists can go about their business unchecked.”

Current Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker introduced mandatory registration for interactions with the Commission upon taking office in November 2014.

There have been 4,000 new entries in the Transparency Register since that date, making a total of 9,936 entries in the register.

Subscribe to our newsletters