EU politics: Cleaning up the lobby

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The current European Transparency Register was set up in 2011 after the Commission and Parliament agreed to combine their separate registers. However, the two institutions also oversee the register.

EU POLITICSDespite the number of registrants increasing year on year, currently standing at around 9,000, with around 1000 new entries per year, Simone Cuomo, spokesperson at the CCBE, believes the register should be controlled by an independent body and not one that is both the “party and judge”.

He also pointed out that lawyers are often in court against the EU institutions. “You just won a case and the Commission was an opponent and two weeks later you get a nice letter saying that you are not following the rules in the transparency register. There might be a direct link,” he said.

CCBE, he said, also backs imposing sanctions for those who break the rules, but only if the body is independent. According to a TI report, between December 2014 and June 2015, lobbyists held 4,318 meetings with the Commission, 75% of which involved corporate interests. Microsoft spent the most in 2014/15, €4.5m, and had 17 meetings with decision makers.

Freund said: “Lobbyists realize 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.”

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. If lobbyists didn’t play by the rules under this system, they would face consequences, such as being banned from future meetings with the Commission.

The European Commission, for its part, is to propose an inter-institutional agreement on a mandatory register sometime near the end of the year. The proposal is to include bringing the European Council, representing member states, into the joint register also.