Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Lobby-regulation becomes election campaign issue in Netherlands, Austria and elsewhere

With just days to go before the European Parliamentary elections, concerns about the role of industry lobbyists in EU decision-making - and the lack of transparency and ethics - have become an issue in election debates in several countries. These are just some highlights.

In the Netherlands, four left-of-centre parties have pledged not to meet with un-registered lobbyists (working for firms/groups that are not in the Commission's lobbyists' register). This initiative came from the Socialist Party, which managed to convince the Social Democrats, GroenLinks and Partij voor de Dieren to join. There's also an ongoing dispute between the Socialist Party and the liberal D66 about the links of D66 MEP Sophie in 't Veld with industry lobbies, as for example through her membership of the European Parliament Financial Services Forum (EPFSF), a banking industry lobby platform.

In Austria, the Social Democrats have profiled themselves as supporting improved lobby transparency (unlike the right-wing parties). They have started a campaign called "Light in the dark of the lobbyists' jungle", in which they express their support for the demands of the ALTER-EU coalition. Also in Denmark, the Social Democrats are highlighting these issues, contrasting their commitment to increased controls on EU lobbyists with the positions of the governing rightwing parties. In both Austria and Denmark, other progressive parties are also campaigning on these issues.

In the UK, the scandal over MPs’ expenses is starting to spill over into the European Parliament election battle. Conservative leader David Cameron has announced that every Conservative MEP elected next week will publish online [...] "details of all meetings with businesses, lobbyists and other interest groups." MEP candidates have signed a pledge "setting out new standards of transparency and ethical behaviour". In terms of ethics, Conservative MEPs "will only accept hospitality from lobbyists and interest groups where it is relevant to the role of an MEP, and where this is of a value greater than £50 it will be listed in the Register of Members´ Interests. No Conservative MEP will accept gifts from lobbyists or interest groups." The big question is if this will mean an end to the conflicts of interests of Tory MEPs like Giles Chichester and Malcolm Harbour? It is worrying that hospitality from lobbyists and interest groups would be accepted "where it is relevant to the role of an MEP", without any definition of what "relevant" means.

The limits of the announced reforms is perhaps revealed by the fact that not a single Conservative MEP has signed the ALTER-EU pledge to provide leadership in lobbying transparency, whereas more than 45 candidates from other UK parties have. In total more than 200 candidates from all the Parliament's political groups have committed themselves to "replacing the current flawed lobbying register with a mandatory EU lobbying register that includes a list of all individual lobbyists, the legislative dossiers lobbied on and detailed information on the money spent on lobbying per client". See for an updated list.


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

MEP-turned-lobbyist shuns voluntary register

A few weeks ago, in our ‘Inside the Brussels Bubble’ blog, we wondered how many of the MEPs not standing for re-election would go through the revolving door into new jobs as industry lobbyists.

Some high-profile MEPs went through the revolving doors to join Brussels lobby consultancy firms after the 2004 elections: Pat Cox (now with APCO as well as EU lobby advisor for Microsoft, Pfizer and other large firms), Elly Plooij van Gorsel (Blueprint Partners), former Labour MEP David Bowe (Gplus) and Rolf Linkohr, who after 25 years in the European Parliament set up his own lobby consultancy working for energy firms. None of these ex-MEPs feature in the Commission's lobby transparency register, because the Commission – astonishingly – does not ask for lobbyists’ names to be disclosed. One can only hope that the Commission remedies this blunder when the register is reviewed next month.

Lobby consultancy firms APCO, Blueprint Partners and Gplus have registered (although the information these firms disclose about their lobbying activities is very limited, but that’s another story). Rolf Linkohr’s ‘Centre for European Energy Strategy’ (CERES) is nowhere to be found in the register. CERES specialises in lobbying (advice) for large energy corporations, including the nuclear industry. Last week Corporate Europe Observatory contacted CERES to ask why they had not voluntarily registered. The CERES staff appeared unpleasantly surprised by our question. They eventually responded in writing, but refused to disclose the names of clients and said they would now look into what the register was about before they made any decision on joining.

CERES is located on the prestigious Avenue Tervuren, a few metro stops from the Commission headquarters. It is on the same floor as (and shares a doorbell with) the European Association of Coal and Lignite (Euracoal). Whether CERES is lobbying for Euracoal remains unclear, as Euracoal refused to answer this question. Nor are they to be found on the Commission’s register (but told CEO they intend to register). Euracoal provides the secretariat for two of its 26 members, the German associations DEBRIV and Deutscher Kohlenbergbau. Among DEBRIV's members is energy giant Vattenfall, which has Linkohr as a board member.

Linkohr, meanwhile, has managed to stay in business after he was fired as a Special Advisor to Energy Commissioner Piebalgs in early 2007. He lost this prestigious job after concerns were raised about conflict of interests due to his double role as a public policy advisor and a lobby consultant for large energy multinationals. The rumour goes that Linkohr, as a Special Advisor, had a major hand in drafting the Commission’s strategic guidelines on energy and that he was instrumental in making Commissioner Piebalgs shift towards a much more explicit pro-nuclear energy position.

Linkohr is a prolific speaker on EU energy policy issues at industry lobby conferences across Europe. The activities of his lobby consultancy firm CERES, however, remain shrouded in secrecy. This raises the question that if prominent former MEPs, who are now lobbyists, do not even feel any need to join the Commission’s register, how can Mr. Kallas expect his voluntary approach to work?