Kallas expects Swedish progress on EU lobby rules

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Sweden’s “strong stated commitment” to transparency presents a good opportunity for the Council to review its “so far hesitant attitude” to the EU executive’s lobbyists register during the country’s upcoming EU presidency, Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas told public affairs professionals last week, revealing that he had written to the Swedes to urge progress towards a register common to all three institutions.

Kallas was echoing comments made by EU Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros last month, who also expressed his conviction that the Swedes, who assume the bloc’s six-month rotating presidency from current incumbent the Czech Republic in July, would make great strides on making the Union more transparent and accountable to its citizens (EURACTIV 18/02/09). 

Room for improvement 

Reiterating the European Commission’s commitment to reviewing the success of its voluntary register in the summer, Vice-President Kallas, responsible for administration and anti-fraud, told the annual general meeting of the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA) on 19 March that “a lot can probably be improved”. 

“I’m sure you will call for more guidance and modifications of the format, and I’m prepared to listen,” Kallas told public affairs professionals. “But I think you already know that the register is here to stay, and many of you have already demonstrated that whatever uncertainties and imperfections remain, this is not an obstacle to registration,” he said, stressing that “greater transparency is inescapable”. 

“Working with the European Parliament on a common register, I have become confident that we’ll agree a common scheme, where any serious lobbyist would feel obliged to be transparent in order to be credible and effective,” the commissioner continued.

As of today, just over 1,200 bodies have signed up to the EU executive’s register, including some 250 NGOs, 170 companies and 430 professional associations. “There’s a wealth of information in the register, and we have discovered associations we would never have imagined existed,” said Kallas. 

Of the 38 consultancies in the register as of last week, all had provided their annual turnover and a full list of clients, he said, citing a total of around 600 clients and estimated overall turnover of €40m. “But we’re probably about halfway through with your group, and with some very large consultancies still not in the register,” he told the AGM. 

Law firms’ failure to register ‘not OK’ 

In the past, EPACA has made clear that it considers law firms as competitors of public affairs consultancies, calling for a level-playing field as regards transparency issues (EURACTIV 15/11/07). 

Vice-President Kallas last week admitted that “it is not OK that none of the major law firms with combined legal and lobby practices have registered”. “These law firms compete with you in the market, and if they don’t register, it’s unfair towards those of you who have,” he told members of EPACA. 

Insisting that the EU executive will continue to put pressure on law firms to sign up, Kallas nevertheless admitted that they will take “a bit more convincing”. “While we have so far stopped short of a formal ban, we’ll continue to reinforce the ‘chilling effect’ on meetings with unregistered lobbyists,” he said. 

Despite the commissioner’s positive assessment, a EURACTIV survey presented last month revealed that large numbers of businesses, consultancies and industry federations do not intend to sign up to the Commission’s lobbyists register (EURACTIV 09/03/09). But a majority of respondents are supportive of transparency in principle, it found.

Last week’s gathering also saw the re-election of José Lalloum (of Logos Public Affairs) as EPACA chairman. 

Declaring himself "very pleased with progress made so far" regarding the Commission's lobbyists register, European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for administration and anti-fraud, said "the incentive to join can only become stronger with time". 

"The European institutions are attractive lobby targets, […] yet they need to be able to take timely, informed and legitimate decisions for the public benefit," Kallas told consultants gathered for the annual general meeting of the European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association (EPACA). 

"Despite the vigilant efforts, and sometimes demagogic rhetoric, of some NGOs, your profession - and members of EPACA - has not been at the centre of any scandals at EU level. So the window of opportunity for making lobbying transparent in a serene and cooperative way remains open," the Commission vice-president added. 

"As consultants, I'm sure you've advised your clients many times: ‘Why put off to tomorrow what you can do today?" he concluded, before stating: "I appreciate cooperation with EPACA. Your guidance and cooperation are extremely welcome." 

UK Liberal Democrat MEP Diana Wallis, the European Parliament's vice-president in charge of transparency, said parliamentary committees will get involved in the upcoming mandatory register during the next legislature. "We don't want to be Washington. We want to be Europe when it comes to lobbying," she added. 

German Socialist MEP Jo Leinen, chair of the Parliament's constitutional affairs committee and the EU assembly's rapporteur on the lobbyists register, described EPACA's code of conduct as "a model for the forthcoming common register". "I appreciate what EPACA is doing and representing," he added. 

Regarding his re-election, EPACA Chairman José Lalloum said: "I am delighted to be re-elected by my peers for a second term - this is a tribute to the representation work conducted by EPACA on behalf of our profession over the past two years. I will be working closely with all members in order to address future challenges." 

Commenting on the findings of a EURACTIV survey of public affairs consultancies, the company's PR Director Dan Luca told the AGM that "blogs are seen as a good platform to bring together experts and other stakeholders, rather than as presenting a risk". "Consultants are more blog-oriented than federations and corporate representatives, while monitoring is still the main activity, rather than pro-active use," he said. 

As for online video, Luca explained that "corporates are more online video-oriented than federations and consultancies," suggesting that this may be because "they are already used internally in headquarters, and are easier to control than blogs". 

EURACTIV Publisher Christophe Leclercq said the survey indicated that "consultancies believe their main added value is communication related to policy issues and lobbying," while "in their external communication, consultancies give priority to media specialised in EU affairs." 

Public affairs professionals gathered in Brussels for a recent conference (EURACTIV 18/03/09) were optimistic about their prospects for 2009, insisting that the ongoing economic turmoil will create new opportunities despite stagnating PA budgets. 

Participants identified two major factors that are expected to drive demand for public affairs this year: the EU political cycle and the transparency initiative launched by Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas in 2005 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier). 

EU citizens are poised to elect a new European Parliament in June, while a new EU executive is expected to be appointed in the autumn (see EURACTIV LinksDossier). 

Meanwhile, a lobbyists register launched by the European Commission last summer allows organisations to compare their expenditure on public affairs (EURACTIV 24/06/08). 

  • June 2009: Elections to the European Parliament. 
  • June 2009: EURACTIV workshop on trends in public affairs. 
  • Summer 2009: Commission to review success of its voluntary lobbyists register. 

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