German Socialist MEP Jo Leinen yesterday (27 January) expressed optimism that a lobbyists’ register common to the European Parliament and the EU executive can be drawn up. But it may have to wait until after European elections in June, he cautioned.
Leinen, who deals with transparency issues on behalf of the European Parliament, told journalists in Brussels yesterday that he wants “a common code of conduct” between the two institutions to be established by the end of April, expressing hope that a common register would be made available online “as soon as possible” after that date.
In accordance with a Parliament report adopted last May (EURACTIV 09/05/08), an inter-institutional working group (IIWG) was established in December to examine the feasibility of establishing a common register between the EU assembly and the European Commission. As of yet, the Council has not taken part in these discussions.
The first meeting between representatives of the Parliament and the EU executive took place in Strasbourg last December, with another scheduled for February. In December, negotiators agreed to develop a common code of conduct as a first step towards drawing up a “one-stop shop” register for both institutions.
‘Differences remain’ between Commission, Parliament
“Both institutions’ services are now comparing [one another’s] codes of conduct,” Leinen said. But he admitted that establishing a common register before the dissolution of the current Parliament will be difficult because “differences remain”.
“We are confident that the approaches taken by the Commission and the Parliament can be made compatible,” said Leinen, his German EEP-ED colleague Ingo Friedrich, Parliament Vice-President Diana Wallis (ALDE, UK) and Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas in a joint statement released after the group’s first meeting on 16 December.
“There are some differences, reflecting our different institutional roles, but we should be able to accommodate each other […] to offer the lobby profession a ‘one-stop shop’ with no red tape, and give the general public a single entry point to a comprehensive overview of the role of lobbyists in the EU decision-making bodies,” the statement continued.
Czech Presidency ‘promised’ to address issue
As for the Council, “the Czech [EU] Presidency has promised to work on the register issue,” Leinen told yesterday’s conference on lobbying transparency, organised by ALTER-EU, a transparency group. But “the Council is struggling to define whether it is part of the deal or whether it is special and should remain outside,” the MEP said.
The Council represents governments and many of its employees are seconded from national posts at home, making their inclusion in an EU register more difficult.
Nevertheless, “they are part of the [EU decision-making] structure” and need to be brought on board,” according to Leinen. “A good place to start would be including Brussels-based employees of the Council and member states’ permanent representations in an EU register,” he said.
Asked yesterday about possible sanctions for non-compliance with the rules of a common register, Leinen suggested that those who fail to abide by the terms of the code could be thrown out of the register and their name made public.
Indeed, the European Commission recently decided to suspend GPlus, a prominent Brussels consultancy, from its voluntary lobbyists’ register for failing to disclose the identities of all its clients (EURACTIV 26/01/09).
“The GPlus affair shows that sanctioning is starting to work,” argued Leinen. But a common register between all three institutions would need to be put on firm legal ground to make sure it is enforced, “because otherwise all you can do is throw people out and make that public,” he warned.
The IIWG will hold a second meeting next month.