Friday, 17 June 2011

Will the European Parliament stay bottom of the league?

As the Buzek working group to develop a code of conduct for MEPs following the cash-for-amendments scandal Corporate Europe Observatory starts to wrap up its work, it could do worse than look at a recent academic study which shows that the European Parliament has one of the weakest regulatory regimes for lobbying in the world.

Based on the comments and questions from MEPs when ALTER-EU recently gave evidence to the Buzek working group, it seemed clear that there was not a consensus on how far the group should go with its recommendations. The group seems to be divided between those who consider that the recent Sunday Times' expose revealed a 'few bad apples' that some tighter guidance will tackle, or whether there needs to be an overhaul of rules and regulations to tackle corporate lobbying and conflicts of interest within the Parliament.

For those in doubt about which direction the Buzek working group should go, a recent academic study provides good food for thought. “Regulating lobbying: a global comparison” claims to be the first book of its kind to compare and contrast different lobbying systems around the world.

Having looked at the level of lobbying regulations in 70 jurisdictions including US states, Canadian provinces, European countries and others, it give the European Parliament the lowest score of all when it come to assessing how strongly it regulates lobbying. One of the areas it looks at is the issue of the 'revolving door' where former parliamentarians become lobbyists, and an area where Corporate Europe Observatory produced a new report last week. On this issue, the EP receives 'nil points' as there is no 'cooling-off period' before former MEPs can take up a lobbying role. By contrast, Lithuania, the US and Canada, amongst others, do have such a provision. Other issues considered include how much information registered lobbyists must declare and what penalties there are for non-compliance.

The study is salutary reading and shows just how far the Parliament (and indeed the European Commission which also scores poorly) has to go before its lobby regulations can be said to be robust – and in step with other parts of the world.

The book concludes by saying that the system of lobbying regulation took over 100 years to develop and that this occurred almost exclusively in the US. MEPs may be unwilling to accept that the US has anything to teach us here in Europe – but in the area of lobbying regulation, this would be narrow-minded. Either way, the Buzek working group has an ideal opportunity to show European citizens that we will not have to wait 100 years for adequate regulations to be introduced here.

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