Keeping track of interest representation in Poland is difficult because regulation there focuses exclusively on professional lobbyists and consultants, bringing to light "only a fraction of actual lobbying activities," Agnieszka Cianciara, an expert on lobbying and senior teaching assistant at the College of Europe, told EURACTIV Czech Republic in an interview.
Cianciara's native Poland assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 July.
Businessmen seeking to influence the government on behalf of their companies are not considered lobbyists under Polish legislation, she explained, "as they are not acting in the interest of third parties but their own".
As a result, "in the Polish political reality, most activites that in fact constitute lobbying escape public scrutiny," she said.
'Corruption in disguise'
The common perception in Central and East European countries that lobbying is no more than "corruption in sophisticated disguise" explains why calls to ban lobbying can be heard "every now and then," Cianciara explained.
Equating interest representation with corruption is "obviously a huge misunderstanding," she said. "Lobbying is an inherent part of the democratic decision-making process: also in countries that are ranked by Transparency International as almost corruption-free."
Indeed, "corruption is often highest in political systems where no adequate or sufficient channels of communication with decision-makers exist," she said.
Nevertheless, Cianciara highlighted the importance of ensuring that such communication takes place in a transparent manner. "In this sense, establishing comprehensive openness and disclosure mechanisms as part of the broader approach to lobbying regulation can of course contribute to reducing corruption," she said.
'Legislation not the only solution'
Governing the EU lobbying landscape requires a culture of self-regulation and ethics in politics to accompany legislation, she explained.
"Legal regulation of lobbying activities is only one way of regulating contacts between interest representatives and decision-makers. It should not be seen in isolation and clearly not as the perfect solution," the expert said.
Instead, "lobbying regulation should be part and parcel of a wider approach to governance, based on the principles of openness, transparency, participation and disclosure," she suggested.
"Legal provisions can easily be instrumentalised and become counterproductive if they are not matched by a certain level of political culture and ethics in politics," she warned, adding: "That is why self-regulation of the profession is also important and should be encouraged in parallel."
Media role 'tremendously important'
The media, think-tanks and citizens' watchdogs have a "tremedously important" role to play in regulating lobbying of the EU institutions by businesspeople and other stakeholders, Cianciara said.
"It is them whom carry out scrutiny tasks on behalf of citizens and on the basis of the information provided by registration and reporting tools," she said, adding: "Their role in supervising the conduct of both lobbyists and the lobbied lies at the heart of the successful implementation of the lobbying regulatory framework."