European institutions split over lobbying black list

Lobbyists must sign the Transparency Register in order to meet with Commissioners. [????/Flickr]

The European Parliament is considering revoking the accreditation of certain big business lobbyists. But the Commission has no such plans. EURACTIV France reports

Sanctions against uncooperative lobbyists are unlikely to bring results under the current system. There is nothing to stop a lobbyist blacklisted by the European Parliament from entering the Commission.

This inconsistency is as much due to the Commission’s lack of motivation to deal with the subject as it is a consequence of the institutions’ separate accreditation systems.

>> Read: Parliament tax committee threatens to blacklist uncooperative lobbyists

“The Transparency Register is shared between the Parliament and the Commission,” the French MEP Élisabeth Morin-Chartier (Les Républicains) explained. “This means that the Parliament cannot modify the list or any related data,” she added.

TAXE committee

The European Parliament, which launched a special committee on tax rulings (TAXE committee) several months ago, was forced to carry out its investigations in the absence of the defendents: the multinationals.

The TAXE committee had no legally binding way to coerce its witnesses into the stand, so most of the big companies invited by MEPs to explain their tax practices in Europe failed to do so.

Of the 18 companies contacted as part of the TAXE committee’s investigations, only Airbus, Total, BNP ParisBas and the Scottish energy company SSE accepted the request.

>>Read: Tax rulings committee flexes muscles over Luxleaks hearings

Amazon, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Barclays, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Fiat Chrysler, Google, HSBC, Ikea, McDonalds, Philip Morris, Walmart and Walt Disney all refused to give evidence.

Faced with this setback, the TAXE committee asked for sanctions to be placed on those that refused to cooperate, including the suspension of their accreditation to the European Parliament, where lobbyists regularly converge to influence legislation.

No joint decision

A contact in the cabinet of Martin Schulz told EURACTIV that the president of the European Parliament had “asked the quaestors to come up with proposals for changes to the internal rules for lobby groups”. The decision, which will be taken quickly, will then be validated by the European Parliament.

But owing to a lack of support from the Commission, there will be no joint decision.

“We have not discussed a more ‘disciplinary’ approach concerning accreditation,” a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV. And “the type of accreditation (electronic badges) is different in the Commission and the Parliament”, he added.

>>Read: Commission launches transparency initiative for TTIP and lobbying

While the European Parliament looks likely to tackle the question of sanctions alone, the issue of lobbying transparency has been high on the agenda in Brussels in recent months.

Since November 2014, any lobbyist hoping to meet with European Commissioners or members of their cabinets must appear on the EU Transparency Register. This requirement has added 1,000 names to the otherwise voluntary list, which now contains the details of 8,396 lobbyists working in the EU institutions in Brussels.

>>Read: EU lobbyist register to become mandatory by 2017

Four years after its launch in 2011, a request by the European Parliament may finally have put the EU Transparency Register on the path towards becoming mandatory. Jean-Claude Juncker has also expressed his desire to reach an inter-institutional agreement on the compulsory registration of lobbyists in all three European institutions. 

On 12 February 2015, the European Parliament decided to launch a special committee for an initial period of six months, to investigate the sophisticated tax rulings of EU member states that became the centre of a media storm earlier this year.

With 45 members and the same number of substitutes, the TAXE committee's role is primarily to investigate the compatibility of tax rulings with EU rules on state aid and tax law.

The special committee will then draft a report, including recommendations on how to improve transparency and cooperation between member states to the benefit of the internal market, European companies and citizens.

The TAXE special committee’s mandate has been extended to November 2015. 

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