Towards a common register for EU lobbyists

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As the number of lobbyists operating in Brussels continues to increase, there are growing calls for their access to the Commission and Parliament to be regulated via a common register, writes former Parliament rapporteur on lobbying and new Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb for Europe’s World.

Now that Parliament has gained more legislative power through successive treaties, lobbyists are increasingly promoting their clients’ interests directly to MEPs, Stubb points out. Most lobbyists are professionals who are experts in their field, yet most member states have no rules governing their activities, he adds. 

Stubb outlines the variety of rules at EU level, with the European Parliament having a voluntary register and the Commission set to publish one in the coming months. 

The main debate surrounding the Commission’s proposed lobbyists’ register is whether registration should be mandatory or voluntary, Stubb explains. Most professional lobbyists are registered with Parliament anyhow, and the maximum punishment for culprits is expulsion which irreversibly damages their reputation, he continues. 

The Commission’s proposed register will require lobbyists to disclose financial information, the idea being that the greater their expenditure on lobbying the EU, the greater their influence over the institutions, Stubb explains. 

It seems the EU is taking a page out of the US lobbying book, where the strength of a lobby is heavily linked to political funding, Stubb says. But EU lobbying is not as institutionalised as US lobbying, and should not fall into the same bureaucratic quandary, he believes. 

Stubb suggests adding what he terms a ‘legislative footprint’ to each law a rapporteur prepares to ensure transparency in the lawmaking process. Whatever the eventual regulation, he argues, it must apply equally to all parties involved. 

Lobbying, if carried out correctly under pre-defined rules, is an integral part of European democracy, he concludes. 

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