Monday, 10 January 2011

MEP meetings with lobbyists - transparency ahead?

Sweden is known as a global leader in transparency, but among centre-right Swedish MEPs there’s very little enthusiasm for being open about their contacts with lobbyists, as a survey published on europaportalen.se found.

Europaportalen asked the 18 Swedish MEPs for a list of lobbyists they met with during a four-week period in October and November. Twelve MEPs responded to the survey, disclosing details of meetings, but five MEPs declined. Three of these voiced their dislike of this form of transparency, including Cecilia Wikstrom who argued that the privacy of the lobbyists should be protected as they had not been asked in advance whether they were happy for journalists to be told about the meetings. But lobbyists’ privacy is hardly an appropriate argument against transparency.

When professional lobbyists engage in influencing EU decision-making, for instance on behalf of large companies or lobby groups, they are not acting in a private capacity and must accept that their activities can be made public. Gunnar Hokmark, another Conservative MEP who refused to reveal details of his meetings with lobbyists, argued that he has the right to meet with anyone without questions being raised.

This anti-transparency stance goes against a clear and very positive trend in the European Parliament. In October the 25 UK Conservative MEPs published a full overview of all the lobbyists they had met with in the first half of 2010.

Giles Chichester MEP, a member of the Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, had no less than 219 meetings with lobbyists during the six month period, almost entirely with industry lobbyists. Among the Swedish MEPs surveyed, liberal MEP Olle Schmidt had most meetings with lobbyists, with 16 meetings during the four weeks. Schmidt explained to europaportalen that he was not surprised by this given that he is a member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs which is dealing with a very large number of new pieces of EU financial regulation. But while the other Swedish MEPs met with a diverse range of groups, including trade unions and NGOs, the list shows that virtually all Schmidt’s meetings were with business lobbyists, mostly from large banks and their lobby groups. No other Swedish MEPs had anywhere near such a one-sided list of lobbyists. This kind of information is of value to the public, including voters who want to assess the record of an MEP.

The UK Conservatives are so far the only political group in the European Parliament to have disclosed meetings of all its MEPs with lobbyists. Several other individual MEPs have also done this since the last European Parliament elections in June 2009, including German Green MEPs Sven Giegold and Reinhard Bütikofer. Giegold publishes lists of meeting requests received from lobbyists and whether the meeting took place or not, but also regularly highlights examples of problematic lobbying he has encountered. As for example with the recent lobbying offensive by the PVC industry to prevent regulation of their toxic products, using a glossy leaflet which Giegold describes as “repulsive”.

Will 2011 see more political groups in the European Parliament embrace transparency around meetings with lobbyists?

1 comment:

danzwoot said...

It would be enough for the EU to ensure transparency of non-EU lobbyists via a Foreign Lobby Transparency ACT. Because a parliament is always in discussions with citizens and NGOs etc. When you speak of transparency of lobbyists you don't mean that but rules will affect these relations more than professional lobbyists who work as a hired gun. When you look at Commission hearings, even hearings in parliament, often invited persons do not represent a European constituency. The American Fortune 500s behave as if they were at home here, like no European competitor would ever behave in Brussels. I would argue that we need "special rules" for Fortune500 companies. SMEs, NGOs, membership associations, globalisation critics, human rights campaigners, citizens etc., they should be able to contact their MEP as they like. Usually the transparency rules heavy fire back, example transparency register. Most NGOs cannot register as lobbyists because that would make them lose their "public benefit" status, and for the bad guys the register does not tell us any useful thing.