PA professionals see EU transparency ‘declining’

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Public affairs professionals believe that the transparency of decision-making in the EU institutions is declining, according to a new survey presented last week in Brussels.

While in 2009, 87% viewed the European Parliament as very/fairly transparent, this has declined to 64% in 2011.

Similarly, the European Commission fell from 71% to 40% during the same period, found a new study on the state of public affairs in 2011 compiled by polling and research consultancy ComRes.

"Over the last three years we have witnessed a decline in the number of practitioners rating the Parliament and the Commission as transparent in their decision-making," said Monika Matyastikova, European Insight Manager at ComRes, after unveiling the survey at a conference organised by the European Centre for Public Affairs (2 March).

The survey was carried out in February among 146 PA professionals from across Europe, ranging from representatives of industry to NGOs and think-tanks (see 'Basckground')

While the ComRes data revealed that both the EU executive and the EU assembly are generally seen as extremely transparent institutions, in comparison to previous years, this year's survey recorded sharp declines in the number of PA professionals who think that way.

The Council, meanwhile, which represents national governments, continues to be considered by PA professionals as the most secretive, inaccessible and obscure of the EU’s institutions, with just 14% describing it as "very/fairly transparent".

Discussions on transparency in Brussels have in recent years focused on the European Transparency Initiative (ETI), the centre-piece of which is the voluntary lobby register launched by Siim Kallas, a vice-president of the European Commission, in 2008.

Recent debate has focused on the establishment, possibly by June 2011, of a common 'transparency' register between the Commission and the European Parliament.

The survey shed light on a decline in the accessibility of the EU institutions to lobbyists in the eyes of PA practitioners this year in comparison to previous years.

The 2011 study confirmed long-term perceptions that the European Parliament is seen as the most accessible to lobbyists of the EU institutions, closely followed by the Commission with the Council trailing a distant third.

PA practitioners believe the Council is more likely to be persuaded by business than civil society while the Commission is seen as relatively balanced between the two. Both these perceptions have grown in recent years, according to the ComRes data. 

The Parliament, meanwhile, is continuously viewed as extremely biased in favour of civil society, found the survey.

PA industry 'resisted worst' of recession

Public affairs professionals are cautiously optimistic about the strength of the economic recovery and the future of PA spending.

28% of PA professionals reported that their public affairs budgets increased last year and 31% expect an increase this year, according to the ComRes survey.

"The industry seems to have resisted the worst effects of the recession and remains optimistic about the future," Matyastikova told EURACTIV.

Moreover, many respondents (39%) believe that economic recovery has already begun in their organisation, found the survey she presented to public affairs practitioners in Brussels.

"We can also see changes in the types of activities practitioners engage in. There has been a move away from sponsorship, events and advertising spending to the core lobbying activities, mainly in the financial sector, and making them more targeted," Matyastikova said.

"Looking beyond the EU, the survey also showed discrepancies between the markets in which professionals are trained to practice PA or have experience of (the US, Russia, Australia and UAE) and the markets that already fall within their responsibilities or are expected to be within their remit in the near future (China, India and Brazil)," said ComRes European Insight Manager Monika Matyastikova, commenting on the survey's findings. 

Public affairs professionals from many industry sectors gathered in Brussels on 2 March for the tenth annual conference of the European Centre for Public Affairs (ECPA), entitled 'European Public Affairs: Heritage and Development'. 

Conference participants discussed how public affairs companies must evolve to find their place in the post-Lisbon Treaty institutional environment, which has seen the European Parliament increase its power and has heralded new innovations like the European External Action Service and the European Citizens’ Initiative.

Participants also agreed that PA companies are yet to fully find their place in Europe’s post-crisis economic landscape, with many firms having cut non-essential expenditure in a bid to slash costs and better cope with the turmoil during the recession. 

Ahead of the conference, polling and research consultancy ComRes surveyed 146 PA professionals across Europe, including representatives of corporations, industry and trade associations, consultancies, NGOs, government bodies, academia, trade unions and think-tanks.

At last year's conference, PA bosses were optimistic about Europe’s growth prospects and asserted that the worst of the recession was over.  

  • June 2011: Date by which Commission and Parliament hope to get joint register up and running. 
  • 2012: First ECIs expected to land on Commission President Barroso's desk.

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