Putting EU lobbying in perspective
Part I: Canada
I was fortunate enough to attend the International Open Data Conference in Ottawa, Canada this week. Visiting the Canadian capital also gave me the opportunity to meet with the Lobbying Commissioner, lobby organisations and journalists. As a first blog of a two part series (the US will follow next week) I will explore the differences between the EU approach to regulating lobbying with the systems in Canada and the US that often serve as either role models or deterrents.
According to the Commissioner of Lobbying there are just over 5000 lobbyists or organisations registered. In that sense Ottawa is slightly smaller than Brussels with its 7700 registered lobby organisations.
In international comparisons such as the ones by Raj Chari or Craig Holman, Canada does much better than the EU. Some of the most stunning differences are:
5y cooling-off period
High ranking public officials as well as members of parliament have a five year cooling-off period during which they are prohibited from lobbying former colleagues or being active on issues that they dealt with while in public office. As far as I am aware this is the longest anywhere in the world. In comparison, European Commissioners cool off for 18 months and members of the European Parliament do not face any restrictions whatsoever. They can start lobbying their former colleagues the day they leave office. In fact, nothing prevents them from being a lobbyist even while being an MEP. Just put “Consultant” in your declaration of financial interest and you are good to go.
Well-functioning mandatory lobby register
Canada has a mandatory lobby register with an independent authority overseeing it. The Commissioner of Lobbying provides guidance on how to fill out registration, conducts investigations and sanctions lobbyists where necessary. Indeed, the investigation team of 4 people is bigger than the entire staff dedicated to the EU Transparency Register. A total of 28 people oversee that the register is up-to-date and provides meaningful information. In case of violations (non-registration mostly) there are financial sanctions, public naming-and-shaming and in severe cases even convictions in court that can lead to imprisonment. All registrations are initially checked and the Commissioner also spot-checks about 5% of the monthly reportings.
Monthly publication of lobby meetings
Obligation to publish meetings with high-ranking public officials in Canada lies with lobbyists. They have to file communication reports on all meetings, detailing who they met and on what topic. The information that is published is not too dissimilar to the reports published by the European Commission since December 2014, but everything is available on a central website in open data (machine readable) that has a great search function. Reporting is simplified by drop-down menus that greatly facilitate to identify all meetings on a given topic.
Canada a worthy role-model…
Overall there are good reasons why Canada scores well in international comparisons and European decision-makers should have a closer look at Canada when they start negotiating a new Inter-Institutional Agreement on the Transparency Register later this year. Not least of all they could be inspired by the efforts of the Commissioner of Lobbying to hold public consultations all across the country to seek inspiration for reform.
…only missing info on lobby budgets
The one aspect where Canadian reporting obligations are weaker than the voluntary registrations in the EU register is on money. Strangely enough the Canadian register currently does not contain any information on the expenses or budgets of lobbyists. A review of the rules that is currently underway might change that.