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 http://www.electioncampaign.eu/ for an updated list.

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