Public authorities must tame ‘predatory’ lobbyists


Public authorities should make a new commitment to reach the outsiders among minority interests and the ‘silent majority’ to prevent lobbying from becoming a “monopolising channel of influence towards the EU institutions”, according to EU citizens’ association ECAS.

“Lobbyists are predatory and it is up to public authorities to keep them tamed”, states the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) in a guide published in December last year. 

Moreover, ECAS warns that lobbying in the European Union must “always be weighed up against other sources of evidence and research” to prevent particular EU lobbyists from dominating. 

ECAS believe that as the number of lobbyists grows, the “darker, more ruthless side” of the process is being revealed. While it accepts that NGOs have a right and a duty to lobby to make their voices heard, ECAS calls for the practice to be “held in check”. 

The guide, entitled “Tips for the would-be European lobbyist”, sets out twelve guidelines for lobbyists to follow in order to be effective at EU level, including: 

  • Adjusting strategy to what can be realistically achieved through the EU; 
  • Creating a European association or network to operate in relation to the EU institutions and across the Union, and forming alliances and coalitions; 
  • Participating in the consultative process, particularly through online communication tools, and; 
  • Making a noise in order to be seen and heard, while making full use of EU complaints procedures. 

Meanwhile, MEP Alexander Stubb (EPP-ED) presented the first draft of his report on a framework for the activities of lobbyists before Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee on 24 January. 

The draft report calls for a common register for both the Commission and Parliament and stresses that any financial disclosure requirement should apply equally to all lobbyists. 

However, Stubb’s draft questions whether financial figures are the best way of providing information on the scale of lobbying activities and suggests that particularly in the case of NGOs a “written description of lobbying activities might be more informative”. 

ECAS Director Tony Venables said he was "worried" by the findings of the guide, saying it "raises the issue of how to give more of an effective say to those who are not among Brussels 'insiders'". It "identifies lobbying as a highly professional task to be backed by a European association or network present in most EU countries," he added. 

Regarding Commissioner Kallas' transparency initiative, ECAS states that although the proposed code of conduct for lobbyists and a voluntary register that includes financial disclosure are "steps in the right direction […], they are not enough to involve civil society." 

On his blogMEP Alexander Stubb insists that any regulation adopted "must apply equally to all" as anyone trying to influence a piece of legislation is a lobbyist. 

Moreover, Stubb proposes establishing a "joint working group to consider the administrative implications of a common register," but stresses "fundamental differences" between the Commission and Parliament. 

He believes the "argument between voluntary and mandatory registration is academic" as "credible lobbyists register anyway". 

José Lalloum, chairman of the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (EPACA), told EURACTIV in an interview last November that the lobbyists' register proposed by Commissioner Kallas should be mandatory rather than voluntary and applicable to "all the EU institutions". 

The Commission is aiming to introduce a lobbyists' register in spring 2008 as part of the wider transparency initiative launched by Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas in 2005. 

Opinion is divided between EU officials and among lobby groups themselves as to whether inclusion in the register should become mandatory (the model proposed by Kallas suggests voluntary registration), as well as whether there should be a common register or separate ones for each EU institution. 

Moreover, debate is ongoing regarding the depth of the register's financial disclosure requirement and whether this should be applied equally to all lobbyists, including law firms and professional consultancies as well as trade associations, NGOs and think tanks. 

  • 27-28 Feb. 2008: The committee will discuss a revised version of MEP Alexander Stubb's draft report on lobbyists to Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee. 
  • March 2008: Committee to vote on the report. 

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