There was both good and bad news from the Parliament’s hearing with designate Commissioner Šefčovič today. On the positive side, Šefčovič confirmed that he will continue the European Transparency Initiative and that he will put pressure on law firms to join the lobby register. He also acknowledged that the Commission needs stronger rules for Commission staff going through the revolving door into industry lobbying. On the negative side, Šefčovič did not appear very ambitious in terms of pushing for genuine lobby transparency and the strong conflict of interest rules that the EU needs so badly.
The revolving doors problem needs to be addressed, Šefčovič admitted, adding that the rules that apply to Commissioners should be incorporated in the rules for Commission staff (Staff Regulation). But when asked for dates, Šefčovič did not go beyond a disappointing “at the latest in 2012.”
His assessment of the Commission’s current lobby register is unrealistically positive, but this perhaps reflects the briefing he has received from officials rather than his own analysis of the register as it currently stands. “We got the lobbyists under control”, Šefčovič claimed, arguing that there are “2300 companies” in the register and that “the voluntary and incentives-based approach works”. In reality, less than 1/3 of Brussels-based lobbies have joined the voluntary register. The information disclosed by the minority that did join is seriously unreliable.
As the Commissioner gets to grip with his brief, and starts to work closely with the European Parliament, the merits of a mandatory scheme may become more obvious and attractive. Šefčovič referred to the talks that will restart with MEPs in February in the socalled ‘high-level working party’ about the creation of a joint register, mentioning that the European Parliament’s lobbyists’ access pass system could be a helpful addition to the current register. The MEP members of the high-level working party are clearly in favour of a mandatory register.