Taming Brussels lobby
The European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs committee approved a report by Italian centre-right MEP Carlo Casini, which demands a single register of lobbyists, shared between the European Commission and parliament.
There has been a parliamentary register for many years, as lobbyists have to sign up to gain an access pass to the building.
The Commission introduced a ‘Register of Interest Representatives’ in 2008, under the guidance on then Administrative Affairs Commissioner, Siim Kallas, who remained adamant that the register be voluntary. The move was controversial as transparency campaigners wanted a mandatory register.
However, some think tanks refused to sign up, including Friends of Europe. Their Secretary-General Giles Merritt was quoted by Euractiv as saying “I personally object to being called a lobbyist. I have been in Brussels for 30 years and I have never once lobbied. I don’t even know what a lobbyist does.”
Merritt hasn’t explained why he opposed joining the register at a time when he was on the European Parliament’s Register of Lobbyists accredited to the parliament.
The Commission did try to encourage signing up to the register by refusing to see people who were not registered, but to date, only 3345 people are on the list, out of an estimated 15,000 – 20,000 lobbyists in Brussels. One issue over merging the two existing registers is financial information. The Commission asks for a lot more financial information that the Parliament. It is alleged that much information is inaccurate, and it is hard to verify.
One organization in Brussels, with a dubious reputation did sign up to the Commission register, when it was trying to gain funding, but has now left and joined the Parliament list instead. It has been suggested that this was because they didn’t want to disclose financial information. One source said, “they declared a total income that was less than the rent of their office alone”.
There have been other moves to increase transparency between lobbyists and deputies. The UK Conservative Party MEPS list all their meetings with lobbyists on their website.
Hans-Peter Martin, the Austrian independent MEP, has gone one step further by listing all lobby contacts on his website. Martin says on the site, “Offers to free luxury travels, gala dinners, test drives and spooky hikes - almost daily, lobbyists are attempting to seduce the independent MEP H.P. Martin. Within a week, the gift invitations exceeded the amount of 10.000 Euro. Simultaneously, aimed pressure is made to support or submit specific amendments to EU-directives.”
So far, the offers include a visit to a conference in China on outsourcing, including “five star accommodation”, an offer to join Europe’s brewers for a beer and a chat, the Luxembourg Fund Industry offering a “free of charge” stay at London’s Savoy Hotel and a “walking dinner” in Brussels’ Hotel Coudenberg and Friends of Music, who turn out to be the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, who invited him to a “private concert” by Belgian band Hooverphonic. Oh, there will be cocktails beforehand.
There will be struggles ahead as the idea of a mandatory register is strongly opposed in some quarters, but as the Martin list and recent scandals show, the dark side of lobbying is alive and well. Is there the political will in the institutions to end these practices?