Lobbying transparency for all EU institutions

The ongoing public consultation on a mandatory transparency register was considered during a public debate on Monday at the European Parliament in Brussels.

By Dods EU monitoring

04 May 2016

On May 2, the European Parliament and the Joint Transparency Register Secretariat of the Commission organised an event on lobbying transparency in the EU. The discussion focused on the main issues around the upcoming proposal of the Commission for a new mandatory system to cover all three EU institutions and the public consultation being currently carried in order to feed into the proposal. Please find below the details of the discussions.

[Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.]

Sylvie Guillaume (S&D, FR) referred to the importance of lobbying transparency in order to avoid the bigger and smaller risks from lobbying practices, whilst also fostering the trust of citizens to the decision makers. She believed that the current EU transparency register is exemplary, despite criticism, if compared to national registers such as in France.

The Commission is preparing its proposal due for the end of this year. There are issues to be clarified as regards the compulsory nature of the new system. In this regard, there is an ongoing public consultation, whilst the Parliament is preparing a report, coordinated by Sven Giegold (Greens/EFA, DE), about it.

She then listed the issues that remain to be seen and would be part of the conference's debate:

  • Participation of the Council (Guillaume believed that we cannot speak for an EU Transparency Register without participation of the Council)
  • Joint or separate register of the EU institutions
  • Role of lawyers and solicits when they act with their capacity as consultants
  • Quality and quantity of the data requested by the register
  • Possibility to check and correct data
  • New features to be included in the register
Martin Kröger , Joint Transparency Register Secretariat (JTRS), said that the aim of that conference was to reach audience beyond the "Brussels bubble". He then referred to the ongoing public consultation, which will run until the 1st of June. More than 850 contributions have been submitted so far and the Commission is looking forward to more. Giegold's report is also being expected to feed into the Commission's proposal. The experience of JTRS since 2011 will be used as regards weaknesses etc., but the main issue to be seen is the nature of a mandatory system.

The event then continued into three breakout discussion groups on:

  1. Incentives & sanctions: how to achieve a workable system?
  2. Disclosure requirements: does the Register ask for too much or for too little information?
  3. Looking beyond Brussels: what can we learn from national lobbying regulation regimes?
The rapporteurs of the three discussion groups presented a summary of the points which were raised during the debate in the groups:

Jo Leinen (S&D, DE), from the "Disclosure requirements: does the Register ask for too much or for too little information?" group, said that they discussed about the link between public trust to institutions and the level of transparency; the update of the current system, which should be more frequent (twice per year); the data provided, which should be more detailed and precise; the need for more resources by the EU institutions in order to ensure more accurate process of the registered information, as well as better interoperability among the EU institutions. They also referred to issues such as indirect lobbyism (social media etc.), the deficit of transparency at the implementing acts area of legislation, and the loopholes of lawyers and public authorities (local, regional etc.). The overall conclusion of the group was that the quality of provided data is not good and it has to be improved.

Dennis de Jong (GUE/NGL, NL), from the "Incentives & sanctions: how to achieve a workable system?" group, said that there was much criticism about the EU Agencies, especially by the Ombudsman representative, but he was surprised that the Council was hardly mentioned. They also discussed about the positive impact of incentives such as the entry to the European Parliament building. During the discharge procedure, the Parliament recommended the Commission to extend its mandatory registration to lower-level officials. Things to improve: clearer definitions and guidelines regarding data for registration, more independency of the Secretariat regarding the investigation of complaints and increase of its resources. Adopting legislation for a mandatory system was seen as an option, while some of the participants thought that local and regional authorities should not be part of the register.

Sven Giegold (Greens/EFA, DE), from the "Looking beyond Brussels: what can we learn from national lobbying regulation regimes?" group, welcomed the fact that the Commission is moving forward with that initiative and that 3 EU Agencies were committed to establishing a transparency register. As regards the national experience, he mentioned that they found the ranking depressive as the countries topping the list are not European, whilst the biggest EU Member States were not high in the list.

The panellists, including representatives of the three main EU institutions, continued an exchange of views based on the conclusions of the discussion groups and questions from the audience:

Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President European Commission, considered the public consultation as an important opportunity for the Commission to collect feedback from people outside Brussels who do not usually have the chance to be heard. The best option is to start with an Interinstitutional Agreement (IIA) and if it goes well, the Council would probably be convinced to go for legislation. As regards local and regional authorities, he could not understand why they should be treated differently than other public authorities. Differences in the status of local authorities in different Member States should also be taken into account in this respect, he added. He thought that only people taking decisions in the Commission should be part of the mandatory register, rather than all Commission's staff. He then referred to the TTIP leaks and said that all leaked information had been previously published by the Commission and the fact that there are differences with the US in terms of transparency is not a new discovery. He lastly highlighted and welcomed the fact that the Commission and the Parliament are now working hand in hand in order to improve things in this area.

Sylvie Guillaume (S&D, FR) said that the TTIP leaks reveal the level of transparency that is followed and they provide for lessons for the future. Trust is closely linked to transparency, but this also works the other way around, she believed. She thought that the consultation will serve as an opportunity to overpass some problems and see progress. For the quality/quantity of data and the frequency of update, she believed that more must be done and more resources must be approved to the relevant services. She agreed that an IIA will allow for progress as regards the obligatory nature of the system. She lastly added that the new working methods, tools and media should be taken into consideration while designing the new transparency register.

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