More think-tanks should sign up to the European Commission’s voluntary lobbyists register, Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas said last week (17 April), arguing that they play a clear role in the EU policymaking process. His claims were angrily refuted by think-tank representatives.
A search of the register reveals that 24 think-tanks have registered so far. But the European Policy Centre (EPC) is the only “major Brussels-based” one to have done so, the commissioner said.
When the scheme was conceived, “we clearly said that lobbying means ‘all activities carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making processes of the European institutions’,” Kallas told an EPC briefing on Friday.
Register targets think-tanks…
“We explicitly and deliberately included think-tanks in the target group,” the commissioner said.
“The Commission’s role is to make an adequate evaluation of all spheres of public opinion, not just the well-organised few who make a lot of noise, like French fishermen,” he added.
…because their role has changed
Think-tanks can no longer be considered as “universities without teaching” as in the past, the Estonian argued.
“They have no students and they are not subjected to the system of peer review that academia uses to promote diversity of thought and scientific rigor,” while “normal academic institutions are expected to conduct their research first and draw their conclusions second,” he explained (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on ‘The changing face of European think-tanks’ for further information).
Citing an upcoming Friends of Europe debate featuring representatives of French oil company Total on the panel, Kallas said it was activities such as these which justified think-tanks’ inclusion in the register.
MEPs and Commission development officials will also be there, and Total may see this as a lobby opportunity, he explained, thus proving that think-tanks play a “constructive role” in the policymaking process.
Despite his comments, Kallas was quick to stress that “most think-tanks would never agree to write reports for corporate sponsors”.
‘No intention of signing up’
Responding to the commissioner’s remarks, Friends of Europe Secretary-General Giles Merritt told EURACTIV that “we have no intention of signing up as lobbyists” and expressed surprise at Kallas’s comments.
“I personally object to being called a lobbyist. I have been in Brussels for thirty years and I have never once lobbied. I don’t even know what a lobbyist does,” he said.
“I was a bit surprised that [the Commission] went to another think-tank to single us out,” Merritt continued, adding that he had responded by writing to the EU executive to invite Commissioner Kallas and other think-tank representatives to publicly debate on the issue on Friends of Europe premises.
The EU executive will review the success of its lobby register’s first year in the summer.