Low expectations for autumn lobby transparency review

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Lobby transparency is unlikely to be a priority for the Swedish EU Presidency given that the appointment of a new European Commission and ratification of the Lisbon Treaty will have to be dealt with under Stockholm’s watch, the executive director of the European Centre for Public Affairs, Tom Spencer, told EURACTIV.

Prior to assuming the EU helm, current presidency holder Sweden had indicated a desire to boost transparency, making the issue a priority of its tenure. 

Moreover, prominent figures including Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas (EURACTIV 23/03/09) have expressed hope that progress would be made by the Swedes. 

But completing ratification of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty following its rejection by Irish voters last year, as well as appointing the next president and members of the European Commission, will instead dominate Stockholm’s agenda, Spencer explained. 

“Good presidencies adjust to changing circumstances,” he said. 

Review ongoing… 

The European Commission launched a voluntary register for interest representatives in June 2008 (EURACTIV 24/06/08), designed to help citizens identify the lobbyists who seek to influence EU policymaking. 

The EU executive is currently undertaking a review of the scheme. 

Brussels-based public affairs consultants hailed the current register’s first year as a success, but transparency campaigners still believe a mandatory system would be more effective (EURACTIV 22/06/09). 

The Commission opted for a voluntary scheme in the belief that peer pressure from registrants would provide enough motivation for others to sign up. 

On the occasion of the register’s first birthday in June, the EU executive accepted the need for ‘fine-tuning’ but stressed the importance of judging the register on qualitative rather than simply quantitative terms (EURACTIV 08/06/09). 

“We chose a voluntary system believing that it would work, and we feel vindicated, because many of the big players in Brussels have joined. The pressure for mandatory is not as high as it was a year ago,” Jens Nymand Christensen, director of better regulation and institutional issues at the Commission’s secretariat-general, said later that month (EURACTIV 23/06/09). 

…results due soon 

Meanwhile, the results of the review process will emerge “by the end of this month or early next,” Dale Kidd, press officer for Commissioner Kallas, told EURACTIV yesterday (2 September). 

The Swedish EU Presidency is hosting a high-level seminar on ‘Transparency and clear legal language in the EU’ in Stockholm on 8 September. 

Asked by EURACTIV to assess the first year of the European Commission's register, Tom Spencer, executive director of the European Centre for Public Affairs, said it was a case of "so far, so good" regarding numbers, but expressed concern about "the quality of the data". 

"I'm not sure whether [the register] has changed the behaviour of the actors. We need a longer reflection period," he said. 

Asked about the prospects for developing a common register between the EU executive and the European Parliament, Spencer said the EU assembly would take some time to get back into the flow, warning that many faces had changed. "Most players there will have more interesting things to do," he said. 

The European Commission launched a voluntary register for lobbyists seeking to influence its policymaking in June 2008 (EURACTIV 24/06/08) as part of a wider transparency initiative launched in 2005 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier). 

While opinions vary as to the actual number of lobbyists active in Brussels (EURACTIV 10/06/08), Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas has cited a figure of 15,000 in the past. 

As of this morning (3 September), over 1,800 interest representatives had signed up to the register. 

  • July-End 2009: Swedish EU Presidency expected to prioritise lobby transparency. 
  • 8 Sept.: Swedish Presidency seminar: 'Transparency and clear legal language in the EU.' 

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