Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Only 24% of Brussels lobbies registered, but Commission claims success

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.

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Monday, 22 June 2009

Some good news from the European Parliament elections

There was no shortage of bad news in the European Parliament elections results earlier this month. Take the turnout rate of 43%, the lowest since the start of European elections in 1979, signaling a growing sense of alienation and disempowerment among voters. No less shocking is the fact that so many MEPs were elected from xenophobic parties in Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, the UK and other EU countries.

As the dust settled, there was also some good news. No less than 73 of the newly elected MEPs have pledged "to provide leadership in lobbying transparency and ethics". These MEPs were among the 381 candidates that committed to the pledge formulated by the ALTER-EU coalition as part of the www.electioncampaign.eu initiative.

The MEPs, from diverse political backgrounds and countries, promised to promote the following objectives:
* 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.
* Ensuring that the Parliament takes all necessary steps to ban conflicts of interest, including barring MEPs from working as lobbyists while in office.
* Securing full transparency around Expert Groups and other groups advising the European Commission, and strong safeguards against privileged access and unbalanced composition of Expert Groups.

It is the first time that such a substantial number of MEPs have ever committed themselves to positive change on these important issues. This promises well for the coming five years.

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Thursday, 18 June 2009

DG Environment lets transparency boycotters off the hook

We have in this blog reported extensively about the boycott by Brussels-based think tanks of the transparency register. We have also congratulated Commissioner Kallas for taking on Friends of Europe as a particularly obvious example of a corporate-funded think tank that really must register. It is now unfortunately becoming clear that other parts of the Commission fail to back - and even undermine - Kallas´ efforts to increase the pressure on Friends of Europe. The Commission's DG Environment has decided to give Friends of Europe a very prominent role in its annual 'Green Week', which happens next week.

On its website Friends of Europe proudly announces a conference next Tuesday and Wednesday titled "Climate change: Keys to a concerted policy shift": "This European Policy Summit, co-organised by Friends of Europe, Unilever and Microsoft with the support of Dow, UNICA (the Brazilian sugarcane industry association) and the Alliance for Beverage Cartons & the Environment (ACE), is part of the official programme of the European Commission's Green Week. The event will take place in the European Commission's Charlemagne Building in Brussels on June 23 and 24, 2009." Among the speakers are high-level Commission officials like Jos Delbeke and Claus Sørensen, as well as representatives of the sponsoring corporations and industry lobby groups.

Hosting this official event inside the Commission's Charlemagne Building (next door to the Berlaymont headquarters) is clearly a scoop for Friends of Europe, but a major setback for Kallas and anyone else who cares about lobby transparency. Beyond transparency concerns, one can really wonder why DG Environment outsources the organising of Green Week events to a think tank that not only systematically allows debates to be sponsored by corporations and their lobby groups, but also gives these sponsors a prominent place in the debate panels (and most likely also in the shaping of the programs). For agrofuels lobby UNICA and the other corporate sponsors, who have all been involved in greenwash in the past, the debates next week are a dream-come-true image-building opportunity. But allowing these firms to buy a seat on the panels raises serious questions about due process and the credibility of the Green Week events. DG Environment has failed to safeguard its Green Week from greenwash.

Back to the lobby transparency issue: not only Friends of Europe is missing in the Commission's transparency register. Of the five corporate sponsors of the Policy Summit, Dow, Unilever and Microsoft are registered, but UNICA and the Alliance for Beverage Cartons & the Environment are not. Wouldn’t it be high time for Mr. Kallas to have a chat with Environment Commissioner Dimas about a coherent approach to make lobbyists join his voluntary register?

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Wednesday, 10 June 2009

BUSINESSEUROPE – a small fish in the lobbying pond?

--- by guest blogger Christine Pohl, Friends of the Earth Europe

Anyone following political debates in the Brussels bubble will agree that BUSINESSEUROPE must be one of the biggest industry lobby groups. Representing employers federations from 34 countries, it has 45 permanent staff at its smart Brussels headquarters. Their role is “to secure that the views of European employers regarding the impact of proposed EU legislation on enterprise are considered as legislation is decided” - in other words: to lobby. But according to its entry in the Commission's lobby transparency register, BUSINESSEUROPE is just a small fish in the Brussels pool. The group reports an amazingly low lobbying budget, claiming their costs “directly related to representing interests to EU institutions” in 2008 were just 550,000EUR - 600,000EUR.

Compare this to the lobby budgets of some other business lobby groups in the register. The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce for example estimates its lobby budget at 1,500,000EUR – almost three times more than BUSINESSEUROPE. The Italian Food Industry Federation reports its lobby expenditure to be >= 1,000,000EUR. This is very vague, but still indicates that it is at least twice as big as BUSINESSEUROPE. Others including the Italian Association of Financial Intermediaries and the Federation of European Accountants appear to outspend BUSINESSEUROPE. In fact, BUSINESSEUROPE is not even in the top-30 of the biggest industry lobby groups in the register. This seems so unlikely that there is good reason to think that BUSINESSEUROPE has calculated its lobbying expenditure in a far too limited way.

For a start, BUSINESSEUROPE should have included the salary and office costs for the 45 members of staff involved in its Brussels lobbying work. It should also have included the cost of lobby events such as the European Business Summit (EBS) and the glossy lobbying publications displayed on its website.

We were curious to find out how BUSINESSEUROPE explained their lobbying budget. So we wrote them a letter and asked. We didn't get a reply. We then decided to use the complaint mechanism for the Commission's register, hoping that this would shed some light on BUSINESSEUROPE's low budget lobby work. It took the Secretariat-General of the Commission a while to reply - and when it finally did, it was to inform us that “Having carried out the necessary verifications internally as well as in contact with BUSINESSEUROPE, we have no ground to establish a violation of the Commission's Code of Conduct.”

This reply did not really satisfy our curiosity, and we were slightly surprised to get so little explanation. Any serious complaint mechanism provides the reasoning and argumentation for a decision, from the European Ombudsman to the OECD. Even the complaint panel for the lobby association EPACA gives some kind of explanation for its decision. So we wrote to the Secretariat-General again – but to no avail. We did get a reply – but it merely explained that “the Commission's services had met representatives of Business Europe and asked them to clarify the issue at stake regarding the elements and the methodology used to assess the estimated amount spent on direct lobbying of the EU institutions."

Are we expected to believe BUSINESSEUROPE's registration any more now than we did before complaining? We can only conclude that the Commission does not take complaints about registrations seriously. How seriously are they taking their role of oversight body for the register then?

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Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Former Parliament President among the least transparent lobbyists


In previous posts we highlighted examples of former MEPs who have gone through the revolving door to become corporate lobbyists. Pat Cox, an MEP for fifteen years (1989 - 2004) and president of the European Parliament for two years (2002 -2004), is another astonishing example.

After stepping down as an MEP he became a lobbying consultant for several bodies, including public affairs giant APCO, the corporations Microsoft, Pfizer and Michelin as well as corporate front groups and thinks tanks like Friends of Europe.

He is also the director of two smaller lobby firms: Strategic Consulting firm CAPA Ltd and European Integration Solutions. Neither of these firms have joined the Commission's register. Nor do they apply even the most basic standards of transparency:

- Neither of them has a website
- Searching online, there is an EIS address in Brussels as well as a Cyprus phone number. The address seems to be for a private apartment.

Pat Cox has also been hired by Consumers Commissioner Meglena Kuneva as a Special Adviser. The documents published on the Commission's web page of Special Advisers, however, fail to demonstrate an absence of conflicts of interest as demanded by the Rules on Special Advisers.

There are legitimate concerns that there could be a potential conflict of interest given that Mr Cox works directly (Microsoft, Pfizer and Michelin) and indirectly (through APCO and EIS) for large corporations with significant interests in EU consumer policies.

Corporate Europe Observatory last week wrote to Commissioner Kuneva and asked her to clarify the situation.

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