Excessive lobbying of the EU institutions by businesses putting profit before moral values is giving industry a bad reputation, Romanian MEP Daniel Daianu told a conference last week, claiming that “honesty and transparency are needed more than ever”.
“The people who pop up in the corridors of the European Parliament represent big business, not citizens,” Romanian MEP Daniel Daianu (ALDE) told a Brussels conference on lobbying ethics on 5 November. But “the business world’s sole obligation is to shareholders and making a profit at the expense of moral values,” he stressed, lamenting the disruptive influence this had on the transparency drive.
Business reserves right to lobby…
In response, business representatives were quick to defend their right to participate in the EU policymaking process. “All companies should have the right to express their opinion on issues that affect them,” argued Miguel Veiga-Pestana, vice-president of global external affairs at Unilever.
Others believe there is a distinction to be made between the ethics of lobbying and the European Commission’s transparency drive. Burson Marsteller CEO Robert Mack said: “The European Transparency Initiative (ETI) is not about ethical lobbying. It is about disclosure of information. These are two separate things.”
Lobbyists last week expressed concern that the European Commission was not doing enough to promote participation in the voluntary register launched by Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas last June (EURACTIV 07/11/08). They said they would sign up to the register if the Commission provided clearer guidelines for participation, but argued that the EU executive needed to be more proactive in encouraging them to take part.
…and laments ‘unclear’ EU guidelines
Business is concerned that the Commission’s failure to provide clear guidelines for inclusion in the register is negatively impacting upon the quality of the information it contains, according to Mack.
“There are huge differences between the information in the register because the rules are non-specific,” he said, complaining that the current system “puts the burden on participating associations to provide their own guidelines”.
Mack believes that a law-based system is essential to ensure that the rules are properly enforced. “It is premature to talk about enforcement before we have clear guidance on what information we must include when registering,” he said.
Nevertheless, businesses understand the importance of participating in the register, argued Veiga-Pestana, insisting that the EU cannot achieve its goals without industry’s contribution to the legislative process. “Failure by companies to participate in the legislative process would produce bad law,” he said.
Towards a uniform EU code?
EU Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros wants a uniform code of administrative good behaviour, based on best practice, to be established for staff at all EU institutions and agencies. “Officials at the EU institutions must adhere to a code of good administrative behaviour,” he said.
Diamandouros said it was not within his mandate to investigate lobbyists themselves because they belong to the private sector, but he could investigate “the lobbied” within the EU institutions. “My role is to supervise the behaviour of the decision-makers, not the decision-shapers,” he added.
For their part, lobbyists themselves believe the profession is in a position to regulate itself. “The ETI should be limited to disclosure. Industry should set its own ethics codes,” said a former head of the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP).
“The codes of conduct developed by SEAP and EPACA (European Public Affairs Consultancies Association) are good enough and we do not need any more,” Mack noted.