Kallas defends voluntary lobbying scheme in face of boycott


US-style controls on lobbying look to be on the cards for Europe, after Brussels’s largest public affairs companies refused to participate in proposed voluntary regulation because of mandatory disclosure of their clients and fees.

Commissioner Kallas’s intention was to shed light on the influence exercised by Brussels’s estimated 15,000 lobbyists, while avoiding a mandatory compliance regime that would be the first comprehensive official regulation of lobbying in Brussels.

Kallas has refused to compromise on financial disclosure. “If spending money on lobbying gives no influence, I wonder what the lobby professionals say to their clients when they bill them?” he recently asked the European Parliament, adding that the proposed regulation was “very light” by international standards, he said.

The Commission has made it clear that if voluntary controls did not work it would introduce a US-style mandatory system with penalties for non-disclosure.

EPACA, like the Society of European Affairs Practitioners have a code of conduct – while lobbyists must sign an ethics code to gain access to MEPs, they need not provide any information other than clients’ names.

Administration, Audit and Anti-Fraud Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas has said: "Through co-operation on the register, we can resist any campaign to outlaw or discredit legitimate interest representation, and we can ensure a solid, sustainable foundation for the credibility and legitimacy of the business. We can keep the EU institutions open and accessible without daily contacts between us being subjected to bureaucratic hurdles. And by acting now, in the absence of a lobbying "scandal", we can help to prevent scandals and we can address the ever increasing level of lobbying of EU institutions in a cool-headed analytical state of mind."

The European Public Affairs Consultancies Association (EPACA) has stated: "EPACA views transparency and openness as fundamental to the integrity of the lobbying profession. We have pioneered actions in this field, including the drafting of a code of conduct which was drawn on for the Parliament’s own rules of procedure, and the setting up of a Professional Practice Panel. In this light, EPACA is in favour of the broad goals of the European Transparency Initiative, but concludes that the current version presented by Commissioner Kallas is unworkable. Given a voluntary system, EPACA supports the registration of employees involved in lobbying and the disclosure of client lists. However, the demands for the provision of commercially sensitive financial information are not practicable within a voluntary framework. EPACA is not opposed to financial disclosure per se but this is only workable if lobbying becomes a fully regulated profession, in which requirements are mandatory for all (including lawyers, in-house consultants, NGOs and public affairs consultancies)."

The Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP)  has previously not advised its members to boycott the registry. President Lyn Trytsman-Gray told EURACTIV that the disclosure rules may result in individual lobbyists accounting for their budgets differently, creating a register with "non-comparable" figures, and is asking for a system in which the total turnover is not given, but only a percentage breakdown by client or donor: "We agree with the Commission that any system of registration for lobbyists should be voluntary.  However, the levels of disclosure required, particularly financial disclosure, should not be impossible to meet or overly burdensome for potential registrants.  They should not act as a disincentive to registration." 

EPACA, the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association, which represents 38 businesses, said on 16 August that all of its members would boycott an interests register presently being established by the European Commission, terming it "discriminatory and unworkable".

Many law firms have also said they would not join the register, due to be set up next year under plans by Administration, Audit and Anti-Fraud Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, in order to have more information on how EU legislation is influenced.

But EPACA spokesperson Anna Rouillard argued that consultancies would be "expected to provide a detailed breakdown of lobbying-related turnover", which could be used to discover their clients and fees, and that the register would thus be in breach of EU competition law.

  • Spring 2008:  Proposed launch of lobbyists register.
  • Second half of 2008:  Commissioner Kallas to assess situation and identify areas for improvement.

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