Wednesday, 11 February 2009

At least a dozen dubious entries in the Commission's lobby register

At least twelve organisations registered in the Commission’s lobbying register could be more virtual than real. Here’s the story of how I found out.

It all started when I tried to figure out who on the European Commission’s Register of Interest Representatives spends most on lobbying. It turned out that one registrant stands head and shoulders above the rest. The obscure Fares Bank Ltd, headquartered in London and directed by “Mr Willy Bergher”, reports to have spent an amazing 250 million euro on lobbying the EU institutions in 2008, dwarfing Hill & Knowlton International Belgium (8,143,400 euro in 2007) and Burson Marsteller (6,963,000 EUR in 2007) which take second and third place.

A visit to the website of Fares Bank Ltd got me curious. The site is quite odd in many respects, redirecting visitors to another URL (http://www.ha4a.net/db/faresbank/index.php?lang=english) and prominently announcing that “Fares Bank Ltd is a company registered at the "European Commission" to No. 80756441078-18” – which appears to be somewhat clumsy attempt to lend this ‘bank’ more credibility. Fares Bank's London address coincides with that of a company renting virtual offices.

A whois search showed that the bank’s website is registered by a certain Gennaro Ruggiero from Prato, a city not far from Florence, Italy. Following that trail I discovered a series of inter-related organisations and websites where one cannot help but wonder whether these organisations are real or just imaginary.

As a next step, I checked if some of these other organisations appear in the EC lobbying register. And voilĂ : no less than twelve registrations linked directly or indirectly to Mr. Ruggiero (see list below).

It is a strange kettle of fish – and I am at a loss to explain what is going on. But I cannot help but wonder how these twelve organisations are registered on what is supposed to be a tool for transparency. Because the Commission does not seriously screen registrations – or at least they do not appear to – citizens visiting the register are left questioning the reliability of the information it contains. The current lack of oversight is a big disappointment for all pro-transparency campaigners.

But my surprises didn’t end at the Commission register. I also found Gennaro Ruggiero and Giuseppe Catapano on the list of registered lobbyists at the European Parliament, representing the Osservatorio Parlamentare Europeo e del Consiglio d'Europa (see list below). Being on the EP register means that these two ‘gentlemen’ have permanent access badges to the European Parliament buildings. It makes one wonder how this could ever happen.

The Ruggiero network on the EC lobbying register


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Monday, 2 February 2009

GPlus back on EU lobbying register after disclosing previously unnamed clients

One and a half week after this blog broke the news of the suspension of Brussels lobby firm GPlus from the European Commission’s lobbying register, the company is back on the register after having disclosed four previously unnamed clients.

As the GPlus suspension was getting picked up in the media the company went into “crisis management” mode, with a statement published on the GPlus home page.



According to an article in the Financial Times:

“Peter Guilford, one of GPlus’ founders, said the firm had informed the commission in December, when it first joined the registry, that it had pre-existing confidentiality agreements with three clients, who did not want their names disclosed. Two of those clients are no longer represented by GPlus.”
But in the end the confidentiality agreements between GPlus and these clients proved to be less sacrosanct than suggested initially and GPlus disclosed the names of the four previously unlisted clients.

By following up on this case and forcing publication of unlisted clients' names, the Commission has set an important precedent. For other lobbying consultancies the case should serve as a lesson, showing that it can be pretty counterproductive not to provide a full clients list when registering.

Corporate Europe Observatory has strong indications that some of the other lobby firms that have registered so far also fail to publish a full list of their clients. Unlike GPlus, these sneaky guys don't announce publicly that their list is incomplete. But if such violations of the registration rules will indeed be uncovered, these firms may find themselves much more in need of "crisis management" than GPlus was last week.

The clients that had asked GPlus for confidentiality are:Japanese carmaker Toyota is registered separately, reporting 250,000 – 300,000 euro spending on lobbying in 2008.

As part of the “crisis management” to avoid reputation damage, GPlus also published a pdf document containing its entry on the register. In this document, GPlUs declares a total turnover on lobbying in 2007 of £ 1.97 million (€ 2.1792 million). But on the register website, the firm chooses to be less transparent and only indicates that its lobbying turnover in 2007 was over 1 million euro.

Last autumn, GPlus was nominated for the Worst EU Lobbying Awards 2008 for supporting the spread of war propaganda on behalf of the Russian Federation. One of GPlus’s clients, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, won the Worst EU Lobbying Award 2008, together with Abengoa and UNICA.

References:

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