When the new lobby register was launched by (part of) the Italian Parliament on March 10, MP Marina Sereni felt quite satisfied with the initiative. Sereni was elected for the first time in 2001. Now deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, the house of Parliament that has adopted the new rules, she is the one who was actually in charge of developing them. “It’s a starting point,” she said in a phone interview with Euronews. “We will take the first year as an experiment.”
But the fear of other parties involved is that the register is too limited in its scope.
In Italy, lobbying is not regulated at the national level, despite about 50 draft laws having been presented in Parliament in the last 37 years. Just a few ministries and regional governments have autonomously introduced some rules, with the Chamber of Deputies the latest to add its own initiative.
According to the new protocol, stakeholders who want to attend the Chamber of Deputies in Rome regularly in order to present Italian politicians with their files and proposals, will have to be registered on a public section of the institution’s website. In return, they will receive a maximum of two permanent electronic passes and a dedicated room from where they can follow parliamentary business. At the end of the year, lobbyists are required to submit an annual report of all the meetings they had with any member of the Chamber and activities they carried out within the walls of Parliament.
The initiative has succeeded in stirring public debate over the issue. The new measures have been generally welcomed by the public, although not without criticism. It was lobbyists themselves who pointed out most of the flaws in the regulation: the first is the fact that the register involves just one chamber of Parliament. “You can still meet a member of the Chamber outside Montecitorio (the palace where deputies gather) without anybody knowing about it,” said Paolo Zanetto, an associate of the biggest Italian lobbying firm. “I consider this regulation lacking, unfortunately.”
What is missing in Italy is a national law defining what lobbying is. In 2012, an anti-corruption law introduced the crime of trading of illicit influence. “If you want to condemn illicit behaviour, you need to safeguard and regulate the licit ones,” affirmed the Democrat deputy Marina Sereni. “Without having lobbying regulated, we risk nurturing suspicion all over this sector.”
The fault for the lack of regulation probably lies on both sides. “We have been terrible lobbyists of ourselves,” admits Paolo Zanetto. But he also points fingers at decision makers. “Maybe some politicians do not want this type of transparency,” he suggested, referring to the fact that some representatives would rather hide how many times they meet with certain market players instead of others. “There are biases in both worlds,” claims the deputy speaker who wrote the new rules for the Chamber of Deputies. “Among lobbyists some have interests in being regulated while others don’t,” she explains. “Transparency favours those who are more professional while it bothers those who are less so.”
But the measures recently put in place in Montecitorio impose duties only on the stakeholders and not on the MPs. They have to register and submit the annual report, and can incur sanctions – the highest of which is cancellation from the register. “We had no mandate to intervene on deputies,” says Marina Sereni.
Some ministries, however, do include government representatives.Alongside the transparency register, the Italian Ministry for Economic Development has, for instance, introduced a public record of the meetings the minister and government officials had with stakeholders.
Sereni could only act within a framework previously approved by the specific body of the Chamber of Deputies in charge of internal regulations. The focus was mainly on putting more structured and less influent players on the same level, giving them the same opportunities of getting access to the building and deputies. “Environmental organizations and oil firms, savers’ committees and finance and banking organizations, all have the rights to interact in a licit form with decision makers”, she said. “It will be then up to the latter to take responsibility over their choices.”
According to Zanetto, the Chamber of Deputies’ initiative has managed to force those who have so far “worn two hats” (for example because they are former MPs or are accredited to Montecitorio for personal connections) to openly declare their lobbying activity. But there is a long way to go before this becomes standard in all political bodies. While the EU transparency register is going towards becoming mandatory, Italy is making its first attempts to deal with lobbying. There will be a time – at this point not before new elections – when instead of four registers at a regional level and three nationally, there will be a unique set of rules for all Italian institutions.
Types of lobbies
|EU||Italian lobbies in EU|
|I – Professional consultancies/law firms/ self-employed consultants||1,301||145|
|II – In-house lobbyists and trade/ business/professional associations||5,576||375|
|III – Non-governmental organisations||2,930||172|
|IV – Think tanks, research and academic institutions||840||98|
|V – Organisations representing churches and religious communities||49||3|
|VI – Organisations representing local, regional and municipal authorities, other public or mixed entities, etc.||546||50|
Article by Guia Baggi, with contributions from Alessia Cerantola and Lorenzo Bagnoli