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.