Thursday, 28 August 2008

Slow and shaky start for EU lobbying register

It is now over two months since the European Commission’s voluntary lobbying register was launched and so far 285 organisations have registered.

What do these early entrants show?

Until now, only a few large corporations have registered and there seems to be wide variation in their reported lobbying costs. The Spanish telecoms firm Telefónica for example reports that its EU lobbying costs in 2007 were 950,000 €, while French car maker Renault says it spent between 200,000 € - 250,000 €, and Air France KLM reports 50,000 € - 100,000 €.

Do these figures reflect real differences or are they just the result of the Commission’s failure to provide clear and unambiguous guidelines for calculating lobbying expense? Instead of improving lobbying transparency, the register appears to be creating confusion.

Trade associations and other professional organisations that lobby on behalf of an industry or groups of similar businesses have shown themselves most enthusiastic in registering. Most of those that have registered are small and not well known. One exception is Foratom, the nuclear industry lobby, which declares a lobbying budget of 1,634,500 €.

None of the larger lobby firms are currently on the register. EPACA, the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association, has announced a members' meeting on 10 September, to discuss registration issues.

Only two smaller law firms involved in lobbying consultancy work have registered; it remains unclear if larger law firms will do the same.

None of the major think-tanks have registered.

Fifty four organisations have registered as “NGOs”, most of them smaller organisations, with UK charity Christian Aid the biggest. It has declared its total budget on the register - as requested - but given that most of the 138,400,000 € is presumably spent on aid and development, this tells you very little about lobbying.

Summer in Brussels is traditionally quiet, so perhaps it is not surprising that so few bodies have registered so far (there are well over 2,000 lobbying bodies in Brussels, and probably many more). But if early indications are anything to go by, the register is not going to reveal very much about what is really going on in Europe’s lobbying capital.

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