Interview: Lobbying debate will continue beyond 2009 elections

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Debate over the registration of interest groups lobbying the EU institutions will continue beyond the inauguration of new commissioners and MEPs in 2009, said Rinus van Schendelen, deputy chairman of the European Centre for Public Affairs and professor of political science at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University, in an interview with EURACTIV.

“After the formation of the new Commission and new Parliament in 2009, there will be some [kind of] evaluation of their transparency initiatives and Parliament may continue to lobby for an inter-institutional agreement [IIA],” said van Schendelen. 

The Commission launched a voluntary register for lobbyists seeking to influence its policymaking last June (EURACTIV 24/06/08) as a “testing ground” for the feasibility of a register common to all EU institutions (EURACTIV 29/05/08). But Brussels insiders believe no meaningful decisions on how to proceed are expected before the next Commission is appointed in autumn 2009 (EURACTIV 26/05/08). 

“The European Transparency Initiative (ETI) will remain a political dossier,” Van Schendelen said, explaining that “both the planned […] evaluations and the Parliament’s ambition for an IIA will keep the topic on the agenda”. 

The professor believes it will take “a lot more time” to reach agreement on a common register for all three major EU institutions. “The Council will be most reluctant, and the Commission will be in the middle between the Council and the Parliament and may become the winning broker.” 

“I expect that both Council and Commission will defend the position that transparency should, for the sake of EU decision-making and integration, not be maximised but optimised, because no settlement of conflicts among stakeholders can take place effectively ‘in the open air’,” he continued. 

In the meantime, “almost 500 entities” have signed up to the Commission’s register, said van Schendelen, creating a “substantial mass” that would impact upon “the next developments of the ETI”. “Most firms active in Brussels – meaning either consultancies or firms with in-house lobbyists – are now considering the opportunities and/or threats of the ETI,” he added. 

But many firms are facing registration problems related to the “detailed analytical accounting” required, according to industry insiders. For van Schendelen, “the core problem remains the definition of a lobbyist, which is now ‘carrying out activities with the objective of influencing the policy-formulation and decision-making processes of the EU institutions'”. 

“The Parliament’s application of this definition is clearly broader and therefore more valid than that of the Commission, as it includes NGOs,” the professor claims. But he laments that both institutions leave out “all lobby groups from governments” including ministries, regions, municipalities and agencies, as well as “people going part-time to and from meetings of the Commission’s expert committees and comitology committees”. 

All these people “do not behave substantially differently on the EU playing field than private lobby groups,” he argues, and thus “should fall under that formally established definition”. 

To read the interview in full, please click here

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