Brussels lobbyists have taken the unusual step of admitting the openness around how they seek to influence EU decision-making is neither credible nor robust.
They have signed a joint letter to EU chiefs backing the introduction of a mandatory lobbyists’ register, which would oblige them to provide details about who they are, what policy they want to influence and how much money they are throwing at it.
There is currently a voluntary register, but not all lobbyists have signed up to it and even of those that have, many have provided inaccurate information.
How big is lobbying in Brussels?
Transparency International (TI) says Brussels is the second biggest city in the world when it comes to lobbyists and the current system makes it hard to monitor what is going on.
Lobbying is a controversial area. Last year, for example, Brussels’ watchdog said European Commission (EC) officials had been hiding meetings with tobacco lobbyists, who, according to Corporate Europe Observatory, were seeking to influence new legislation for their industry.
Lobbyists held 4,318 meetings with the EC between December 2014 and June 2015, 75 percent of which involved corporate interests, according to a TI report. Microsoft spent the most in 2014/15, 4.5 million euros, and had 17 meetings with decision makers.
What do the lobbyists say?
“We see, however, that the misbehaviour of a few can discredit an entire profession. The risk of undue influence and corruption in the political process seriously undermines the functioning of a democracy,” they wrote.
“This letter is to express our support for a mandatory EU lobby register. It’s time for a robust and credible transparency regime.
“With signals from within our society suggesting a decreasing trust in the EU institutions and the European project itself at stake, we simply cannot afford to further delay reforms and go on with business as usual.”
What will a mandatory lobbying register mean?
The current voluntary system, which covers the European Parliament and the highest-ranking officials in the European Commission, has been much criticised.
TI said much of the information provided is “inaccurate, incomplete or outright meaningless”.
It is hoped a mandatory register would mean lobbyists provide basic information about who they are and what they are trying to influence, as well as adhering to a code of conduct. It is not for lobbyists to declare meetings, instead that’s left to EU officials.
If lobbyists didn’t play by the rules under this system, they would face consequences, such as being banned from future meetings with the EC.
The lobbyists, in their letter to EU chiefs, also call for the register to be extended to the European Council, which comprises the governments of EU states.
What do campaigners say?
Daniel Freund, who covers the EU institutions for TI, told Euronews: “Lobbyists realise that the self-regulation approach has failed and support a mandatory system that ensures that the same rules and transparency standards apply to everyone.
“In the current system it is often the most transparent that end up in the spotlight – not those that are keeping all their activities hidden.
“In times of declining trust in the EU institutions it is vital for the EU to remain a leader of transparency, openness and integrity.”