EU Commission's 'transparency register' proposals branded "too little too late"

Written by Martin Banks on 29 September 2016 in News
News

Lobbyists and independent organisations must sign up to a “transparency register” under new proposals by the European Commission.

European Commission | Photo credit: Press Association


Previously, only Parliament had a mandatory system in place, but newly-launched plans will widen the scope to include all three key EU institutions: the Commission, the Council as well as the Parliament. 

All of them will be subjected to the same minimum standards. In addition, an inter-institutional agreement (IIA) has been proposed to ensure “maximum transparency” across the board.

The move, which some see as a clampdown on the thousands of lobby groups wishing to have access to influence the EU decision-making process, will be debated next at next week’s plenary in Strasbourg.


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Reaction was mixed with German deputy Helmut Scholz, a substitute member of Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, saying, “It is unfortunate that the Commission has failed to comply with the requirements stated by Parliament back in April 2014 to have a legislative proposal for a mandatory transparency register in place by the end of 2016.”

“This announcement is supposed to bind the three key EU institutions - intentionally or unintentionally - in a power game between the Commission, Parliament and Council.

“But this approach prevents the Commission from tackling the roots of the problem. They have missed a golden opportunity to make these channels of access by lobbyists completely transparent.

“Even if these proposals were adopted by the Council, it’s still ‘business as usual' towards the powerful lobbyists so whatever triumphs the Commission may present today are somewhat hollow,” said Scholz.

Further reaction came from Dutch MEP Dennis De Jong, deputy leader of Parliament’s integrity, transparency, corruption and organised crime intergroup.

He said mandatory proposals are a “step in the right direction,” adding, “In principle, I welcome the proposal for a mandatory transparency register.

“It is of crucial importance that we receive reliable information on lobbyists and that we can properly supervise the quality of this information. Lobbyists who give incomplete or false information must be removed from the register. In cases of fraud and criminal activities, sanctions must be imposed.

“In addition, the negotiations about the new proposal should be done in a transparent way and must include all the EU institutions involved,” added the MEP.

Elsewhere, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), said, “The Commission’s response is too little too late. If you look at the political situation in Europe, the Commission should do its utmost to regain public trust. 

“People want to know who their leaders are really working for, especially in the light of the scandals of former Commissioners Barroso and Kroes taking on high-level jobs with big multinational companies.”

Paul de Clerck, of Friends of the Earth Europe, added, “This could have been an opportunity to set out a bold and radical programme for transparency and ethics reform, but instead the Juncker Commission simply demands action from others. This attempt to take the moral high ground is shameless and very disappointing.”

The Commission said it will not extend its own ban on high-level officials meeting with unregistered lobbyists and that the proposed new register will be “mandatory” but not legally-binding.

On this, Nina Katzemich, of LobbyControl, said, “So long as Commission officials who influence and draft legislation are able to meet with unregistered lobbyists, and so long as there are no powers to fine, prosecute or levy other sanctions on the lobbying law firms and others that continue to boycott it or upload dodgy data, the register will remain a flawed tool.”

She added, “The Commission first presented the idea of a lobby transparency register in 2005, but more than 10 years later the Commission still fails to deliver the single most important element, a legal act, that would make this register binding on all lobbyists."”

Corporate Europe Observatory campaigner Margarida da Silva said, “After years of running an extremely weak scheme, the Commission’s revamp of the lobby transparency register had huge potential. But the new measures announced are a disappointment.”

She added, “They will do little to help journalists, civil society and citizens scrutinise the corporate lobbies trying to manipulate EU policies in their favour.”

 

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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