Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cross-party MEP initiative demands genuine lobby transparency

A new High Level Working Party of MEPs and Commission representatives starts talks tomorrow on a joint Commission-Parliament lobby disclosure register. Yesterday, more than 25 MEPs were represented (in person or by an assistant) at a seminar in the European Parliament on how to achieve real improvements in transparency around EU lobbying. The seminar is a follow-up to the pledge signed by more than 75 MEPs in the run-up to the European Parliament elections, committing to “to provide leadership in lobbying transparency and ethics”.

Danish Social Democrat MEP Dan Jørgensen, one of the three MEPs hosting the seminar, kicked of by emphasising that lobbying can play a positive role, but that privileged access and unequal resources means some are less heard than others in Brussels. A new framework is needed to ensure that lobbying becomes transparent and makes a positive contribution to decision-making.

MEPs Claude Turmes and Dan Jorgenson and moderator Leigh Phillips
MEPs Claude Turmes (Greens) and Dan Jørgenson (S&D)
and moderator Leigh Phillips

Green MEP Claude Turmes, also co-hosting, reminded those present that the Parliament already has a strong mandate to improve lobby transparency: in May 2008, the Parliament voted for a mandatory register, with names of lobbyists included as well as detailed financial disclosure. The same resolution also called for a regular review of the register, sanctions for non-compliance and a properly staffed and resourced administration to oversee implementation. Turmes stressed that one of the key priorities for the Parliament was to get lobbying law firms to sign up to the register.

Dutch Socialist Party MEP Dennis de Jong, who had presented the new initiative to the Dutch media earlier in the day, encouraged MEPs to embrace a code of conduct which included not meeting with unregistered lobbyists. He also underlined the importance of stricter rules for MEPs on gifts and hospitality provided by corporate lobbies. Advertising inside the Parliament by large corporations is another issue that De Jong wants to tackle with the new cross-party initiative.

MEP Dennis de Jong (GUE) and ALTER-EU's Jorgo Riss

On behalf of the ALTER-EU coalition, Jorgo Riss presented examples of numerous shortcomings in the Commission's register. Not only is that register voluntary (which means that anyone preferring to stay out can do so, as the boycott by lobbying law firms and thinktanks shows), it also requires very little information from those who choose to register. In the US, far stronger lobby disclosure rules mean that far more information is available about the lobbying done by European firms in Washington DC, than in Brussels, Riss explained.

During the debate, a number of people stressed that the European Parliament is in a strong position to make the register de facto mandatory. The Parliament’s system of permanent access passes for lobbyists could simply become dependant on registration and full compliance with transparency requirements. Lobby consultants' club SEAP, which opposes a mandatory register, has already started lobbying against this and is also calling for law firms to be allowed to stay out of the lobby transparency register.

The new cross-party initiative will organise a series of meetings in the coming months and provide input to the High Level working Party of MEPs and Commission representatives about the upcoming joint Commission-Parliament register.

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