New attempts to streamline lobbying in EU
Business seeks influence on the EU policy formation through EU institutions and bodies; such activity is called lobbyism.
The new Register’s version brings changes to the way human resources are involved into lobbying activity and requires additional information about involvement in various EU committees, forums, inter-groups or similar structures. Lobbyists have to reveal their legislative files currently followed; it also extends the requirement to declare estimated costs related to lobbying to all registrants.
In addition, the Register streamlines so-called „alerts & complaints procedure“ which allows for greater scrutiny and more efficient treatment of allegedly misleading information. Thus, new incentives are given to increase the added value of registering, such as a requirement to register for all those seeking to meet with Commissioners, Cabinet Members or Directors-General or for any organisation wishing to speak at hearings organized by the European Parliament.
A more user friendly website improves the public interface and provides for a more straightforward registration process with guidance provided in a step-by-step approach.
New efforts to control lobbyists
Commission’s steps represent the required implementation of an agreement signed in April 2014. The new Commission intends to make its own proposal in 2015 for a mandatory register of lobbyists covering the activity of the three main EU institutions, i.e. the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. The preparation of this proposal is the responsibility of First Vice-President Timmermans.
In November 2014, the new „Juncker Commission“ already gave a boost to transparency by adopting two Decisions requiring publication of information concerning meetings held by Commissioners, members of their cabinets and Directors-General with organisations and self-employed individuals.
The Register would also clarify what kind of meetings should be reported, e.g. only meetings with organisations and self-employed individuals which have been named in the Transparency Register.
Thus, the Commission is committed both to increased transparency and to maintaining an open and regular dialogue with stakeholders.
Short history: first attempts appeared in 1979
Brussels’ biggest lobbying firms have agreed in January 2006 to a US-type regulation regime, after several financial scandals sweeping across the Atlantic which involved criminal case against a Washington lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.
At that time the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association (Epaca) for the first time dropped its longstanding opposition to registration and public disclosure of clients. The then Epaca chairman, John Houston said on that occasion to the Financial Times: „We have no problems with declaring our clients and registering; as to whether fees should be declared, we have an open mind“ (30 January 2008, p.2).
Epaca unites about 30 consulting-representative companies, including some important global ones, which unites a small fraction of about 600 individual lobbyists out of about total 15 thousand among the EU institutions. Precise figures are unknown: on one side because of lack of adequate regulations, on another, because the „lobbying group“ unites various professions, e.g. lawyers, accountants, NGOs, think-tanks and trade unions. For example, the EU officials leaving their terms in the EU headquarters often turn their knowledge and connections for „consultative work“; however they need the Commission permission, which is rarely denied.
The 2004-data for the lobbyist’s organisations collected in the European Public Affairs Directory, 2004 showed 2.081 representative offices (there were 1.834 in 1996).
The number of major international corporations with representative offices in Brussels has been more stable during the last decade at about 315.
A coalition of 140 groups advocating lobbyists’ reform, Alter-EU discussed during 2006-07 with the Commission and Epaca a common code and set up an independent European Public Affairs Council. In February 2006 Siim Kallas, the then EU Administrative Affairs’ Commissioner published a consultation paper on lobbying and transparency. The commissioner explained that he personally preferred compliance-based regime to a rule-based one. Self-governing codes of conduct were always present however covering only a fraction of those 15,000 lobbyists working within the EU system.
However, the very first attempts to regulate lobbyists’ activity among the EU institutions have been made soon after the first elections to the European Parliament (EP) in 1979. Pressure on the members of the parliament (MEPs) have been generally inefficient as this institution for about two decades performed purely consultative functions which in reality did not affect legislative process. Instead, many MEPs and their associates have close ties to companies and corporate interests. These „interests“ have been often undeclared when MEPs took part in drawing up legislation while sitting in the EPs committees.
The EP’s approach to lobbying activity is seen in the EP’s Rules of Procedure: lobbyists are obliged to register with the EP and respect the code of conduct published in the Rules. Lobbyists are issued specially marked passes which are subject to annual renewal. Out of about 15,000 lobbyists some 4,435 are officially registered with the EP at that time.
Code of Conduct for Interest Representatives
The Code of Conduct for Interest Representatives (adopted in 2008) contained seven basic rules, specifying the „behavior pattern“ for lobbyists while representing their interests. It is important to mention the definition of „interest representation“ (or lobbyism) in the Code: it is „an activity carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making process of the European institutions“.
Register and the Code of Conduct
Being registered shows that these lobbyists’ organisations would provide citizens and all those interested with detailed information on which specific or general interests they represent, how they influence the legislative process and what resources are used to this end. So, finally it would be clear to all who is behind the lobbying and who is financing „the lobbying initiative“. All information in the Register is made public.
The Register has been an experimental initiative of the European Commission. For a trial period of one year the Commission tested the practical aspects of the Register and visualized how it will proceed further on.
While registering, „interest representatives“ commit themselves to the elements of the Code of Conduct. That means that „interests“ listed in the register must sign up a code of conduct governing their dealings with Commission staff. The „conduct rules“ ensure that all lobbyists are „following the same code and are subject to the same independent scrutiny, enforcement procedures and sanctions; there are no privileges attached to registration except for the promise of an e-mail alert when public consultations are launched by the Commission“.
Lobbyism and transparency
The lobbyists’ activity representing particular interests of their organisations towards the EU officials, i.e. EU lawmakers in the Commission and other Union’s bodies, consists of preparing and circulating letters, information or position papers and organising various promotion events. For example, the Commission respects the work of various NGOs and wants to know more on their activity as the EU provides about 1 billion euro a year for NGOs activity.
Such lobbying activities are regarded as an important part of a democratic system and ensure that the EU policy-makers are aware of how their decisions (as well as adopted regulations and directives) will impact different sectors of economy and population in the member states.
The European register of interest representatives, which was both assisted and welcomed by the lobbyists’ organisations in Brussels, was intended to bring more transparency to their activity.
This Register, which was formally opened for registration on 23 June 2008 was prepared within the context of the European Transparency Initiative and intended to show the EU citizens what interests are influencing the EU decision-making process and resulted legislation.
The registration is still entirely voluntary but it provides the lobbyists an opportunity to demonstrate their strong commitment to transparency and the full legitimacy of their activity.
Eugene Eteris baltic-course.com