Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Is the writing on the wall for public affairs professionals?

The Commission is due to evaluate the effectiveness of its voluntary lobby register, but so far, more than 70% of the companies in the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP) haven't registered.

Yesterday, the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP) held its General Assembly in the the Residence Palace in Brussels. I haven't seen the agenda, but, I'd hazard a guess that the European Commission’s voluntary register and code of conduct for interest representatives formed one of the main topics discussed at the meeting.

At the SEAP Conference on European Transparency Initiative & Ethics in Lobbying in October last year, SEAP chair Lynn Trytsman-Gray said that European Affairs professionals were “positive towards the Commission’s request for more transparency” and blamed the European Commission for the low number public affairs firms that had actually registered: “Rather than expressing concerns about the unwillingness of lobbyists to register, the European Commission ought to provide better guidance and structured training to facilitate participation.”

But these words sound even more hollow now than they did six months ago. Investigation of the register shows that so far, just 28.2% of all companies represented in SEAP have registered. This low registration rate is even worse than the findings of a survey by EurActiv (What do EU Actors think of the European Transparency Initiative?), which found that 55% of federations, 53% of consultancies and 41% of businesses do not intend to participate at all in the voluntary lobbyists register launched by the Commission last June.

As Commissioner Kallas wrote some months ago in a comment for the EUobserver: "We have also clearly announced mandatory registration if our gentle persuasion to join us voluntarily is not heard." In June the Commission will evaluate the register. With law firms and think tanks boycotting the register and a large majority of lobbying consultancies preferring to stay in the shade, a mandatory register seems inevitable.

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