On the first anniversary of the European Commission's lobby transparency register, less than one in four Brussels-based lobby groups and firms have signed up. At a press briefing yesterday, however, the Commission hailed the register as "a success" and argued that "the numbers do not point to an instant need to make registration compulsory."
For the ALTER-EU coalition, in contrast, such a large majority ignoring the register proves the failure of the Commission's voluntary approach.
ALTER-EU yesterday published an updated assessment of the register which shows that:
- the total number of registrations is now 1604, of which only 625 have offices in Brussels;
- less than 24% of Brussels-based lobby organisations and firms have registered so far (based on the European Parliament's estimate of 2,600 lobby groups with offices in Brussels in 2000);
- the European Public Affairs Directory lists 165 consultancies in Brussels. Just 25 of these are on the Commission's register, putting the compliance rate for this crucial category at a meagre 15%;
- Of the 330 companies listed in the European Public Affairs Directory, only 86 feature in the Commission's register, which means that just 26% of companies with Brussels-based lobby offices have registered.
On 4 June, ALTER-EU published a detailed report highlighting the flawed information contained in the register and putting forward concrete proposals for solving the shortcomings. The study also showed that:
- think-tanks and law firms are boycotting the register;
- unclear financial disclosure requirements allow lobby groups to disguise the size of their lobbying effort, making it impossible to determine who the biggest spenders really are and what policies they are trying to influence;
- the lack of clear guidelines means that the register is increasingly cluttered by associations that play no role in lobbying the EU (such as the German Erotic Trade Association, which estimates its lobbying costs at €10, and the Surfrider Foundation of Europe, with a lobby budget of zero).
Next month the Commission is expected to present its official review as well as possible changes to the register. In its press briefing yesterday, the Commission conveniently ignored that a large majority of EU lobbyists remain unregistered and that the data disclosed in the register is seriously unreliable. There seems little hope that these problems will be seriously addressed in the review.