NGO offers online tour of EU lobbying hotspots

Lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory proposes an online ‘virtual tour’ of the EU quarter in Brussels just weeks before the Commission kicks-off a public debate on how to improve transparency in EU policy-making.

The 3-D virtual tour starts with EU institutions buildings at the Rond-point Schuman and continues with industry associations, public affairs consultancies, law firms, and what the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) describes as “industry-funded think-tanks” and other “dubious fora for industry and parliamentarians to meet”. However, it deliberately misses out on other major lobbying organisations such as NGOs and trade unions.

The website is being launched just weeks before the EU Commission publishes a so-called ‘green paper’ that will officially kick-start a public debate on transparency in EU policy-making. Among other proposals, the paper will include suggestions to make more information available to the public on who lobbies who and with what budget.

A major sticking point in the debate over lobbying transparency is whether these disclosure rules should be made mandatory and what types of interest groups it should cover. 

Another difficulty will be to determine what exactly constitutes lobbying as formal and informal interactions between officials and stakeholders are an essential element of Brussels politics.

Siim Kallas, the EU Commissioner in charge of Anti-Fraud policy and Administrative affairs has threatened to make registration mandatory if lobbyists did not agree to common voluntary ethical rules.  "I don't present any ultimatum. But if people failed to establish a common code of conduct or common principles or to register, then we should go ahead with compulsory rules," Kallas told EURACTIV last year (EURACTIV, 2 Nov. 2005). But he added he would favour self-regulation by all the major players in the industry as it provides a quicker and lighter alternative to legislation.

In a recent speech, Kallas specified that he would like to see the rules apply to "all those who engage in lobbying: all public affairs consultants, management consultations and accountants, lawyer, NGOs, think tanks, corporate and trade associations". 

The Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) says the website offers an insight into a "world of industry lobbying normally hidden from view," claiming that "up to a billion euros a year is being spent to influence legislation in the interests of  big business to the detriment of people and the environment."  ALTER-EU, a coalition of 80 civil society groups including the CEO, already indicated it was ready to sign up to a compulsory registry of Brussels lobbyists.

The European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association (EPACA), which represents 32 PA companies with offices in Brussels, says it is ready to accept compulsory registration on condition that this also applied to all other lobbyists: law firms, accountants, companies and NGOs. 

SEAP, the  Society of European Affairs Professionals which represents around 200 indivudual PA consultants says it favours a self-regulatory system based on its vountary code of conduct.

The Commission has proposed to launch a European Transparency Initiative to strengthen ethics rules for EU policy-makers and the estimated 15,000 lobbyists, NGOs and other pressure groups in Brussels who seek to influence them.

According to the spokesperson for Siim Kallas, the Commission will publish its Green Paper in early May

  • Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO):Welcome to
  • European Public Affairs Consultancies Association (EPACA):Website
  • Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP):Website
  • Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (LATER-EU):Website

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