The Juncker Commission will work to dissect and discard bureaucracy and introduce a mandatory register for lobbyists across the EU institutions, the designated First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, told MEPs in a well-received hearing yesterday (7 October).
Timmermans, the former diplomat and foreign minister of the Netherlands, deftly fielded questions from across the political divide in fluent English, French, German and Italian in addition to his native Dutch.
Leaving no doubts on the question of a mandatory register for lobbyists, Timmermans told MEPs: “We need a mandatory register, but it will be a tough exercise, because it will represent a change of tradition.” He said that – if he were approved – he would draw up proposals for such a register.
The move follows a vote by the European Parliament this year (16 April) approving new measures that will make life more difficult for lobbyists who are not registered in the EU’s transparency register, and in which MEPs called on the Commission to make the EU’s lobby register mandatory by 2017.
The register has grown considerably since it came into effect in June 2011. It now has around 6,000 entries, which makes up an estimated 75% of Brussels’ business representatives and 60% of NGOs. The figure matches a rough number of 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels.
The EU’s transparency register is one of a number of innovations, intended to strengthen transparency and openness in European policymaking.
Cutting red tape and connecting with citizens
Elsewhere in his hearing, Timmermans said he would assist President Juncker in re-fashioning the EU executive in a new drive to cut red tape and re-connect Europe to its citizens.
By early next year, he told MEPs a list of wasteful legislative proposals would be drawn up with a view to throwing them out of the legislative process and clearing the way for more pressing issues.
By the end of his first year, he would draw up more concrete proposals for better regulation by the Commission itself, he said.
“People do find the EU a problem and this is something we need to dissect and pull apart. That’s why we need the Parliament to do some work on its impact assessment and the Council too,” Timmermans told delegates.
In a polished, well-received performance, the Dutchman balanced his strong belief in fundamental rights with a need for common sense. He also suggested that the Commission needs to sharpen its style by stimulating more political debate.
Timmermans said that was in favour of the Commission’s Citizen’s Initiative – which allows one million petitioners to put an issue on the Commission’s agenda – but added that this has been implemented in a dry and legalistic manner.
Timmermans deftly sidestepped commitments on social charter, Hungary
“If people want to discuss these policy issues things then we must embrace that debate not just with those in Brussels but in the member states. They need to hear and see their MEPs and commissioners,” Timmermans told the hearing.
Challenged by MEPs on how firm the Commission would stand against alleged breaches of fundamental rights by Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, Timmermans toed a diplomatic line, insisting that he would approach the issue using constructive dialogue, without flinching from backing this up with EU powers if necessary.
Pressed by MEPs from the Socialists and Democrats group on whether he was prepared to back a proposed charter for social rights, the Commissioner-designate said he was receptive to considering the idea, without giving any firm commitments.
The Dutchman deployed a range of diplomatic skills in his replies, extolling the memory of UK wartime leader Winston Churchill and Italian federalist Altiero Spinelli.