Lobby Transparency in the EU

Author
Alex Johnson
Date
4 September, 2015
Type
Article
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The following is a speech by Daniel Freund on 03/09/15 in the European Parliament at a Greens/EFA event entitled “Transparent, clean, accountable: Lessons form international best practice for the EU institutions”

The full conference can be viewed online here

Good afternoon everyone,

First I would like to thank Sven Giegold for inviting us to participate in this panel. Thanks as well to Julia Reda, Thomas Susman and Bruce Bergen for these fantastic presentations. My name is Daniel Freund and I lead on lobbying issues at Transparency International’s EU office in Brussels.

I am very sorry that I cannot be with you in person today as I am attending the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where tens of thousands of protesters have peacefully taken to the streets last weekend to protest their corrupt Prime Minister, who is currently under investigation because the incredible sum of 700 million Euros has somehow ended up in his private bank account. The Malaysian people are not alone in protesting corruption. In the last weeks we have seen large protests in Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, Iraq and in Lebanon.EMLFn6WxItSqusokr4WK4lOyA19B5KuocwtcLJN-3IE,7DovlQJyHwrnb4aJnXfguU4e21mmikTb-p9jpm_3YP4

In Europe we see that political corruption more and more takes different forms. It becomes more subtle and often more difficult to detect. It is no longer envelopes full of cash changing hands, instead officials or politicians are rewarded by a high paying job after leaving office through the revolving door. Or conflicts of interest that arise between an elected office and high paying outside activities. Or the undue influence of lobbyists that distort legislation to keep harmful drugs on the market or to secure the rights for their company to continue polluting activities.

Over the last years, multiple lobbying scandals have shaken the EU: from Cash for Amendments in the Parliament to the Affair around health Commissioner Dalli. Transparency International has undertaken a number of research projects in the area. We assessed the situation of lobbying in 19 member states and in the EU institutions in a two year project and published the results in April in our report called “Lobbying in Europe”. In June we launched two tools on lobbying on our EU Integrity Watch website. We combined the information of about 5,000 meetings that the Commission has had with lobbyists since December 2014 with the information of the 8,000 lobby organisations on the EU Transparency Register. The tools show that corporate interests dominate EU lobbying. 75% of meetings at the highest level of the European Commission are with representatives of companies or industry associations. They also outspend all other actors. Corporate Europe Observatory just released numbers for the pharmaceutical industry where the ratio seems to be 15:1.

This situation destroys citizens’ trust in the institutions and clearly shows that Europe urgently needs lobbying reform – both at the national and EU level. We need clear and enforceable rules and regulations. Lobbying is of course an integral part of a healthy democracy. Free speech and the right to petition government are among our most fundamental rights. But when certain interests – with more money or insider contacts – come to dominate political decision making for their own benefit democracy cannot work the way it is supposed to.

The European Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker has made a number of promises when it comes to lobbying transparency and some of them were swiftly implemented when Commissioners and their closest advisers pledged to no longer meet with unregistered lobbyists and to publish details about those meetings online. They also promised a reform of the EU Transparency Register and we hope a proposal will be put forward before the end of the year.

We hope that this upcoming reform will be used to increase transparency, integrity and equality of access in EU lobbying by making the register de-facto mandatory and by introducing an EU legislative footprint. In the longer term we would like to see a legally binding mandatory EU register established in law and provisions put in place that ensure that political decision-making is not dominated by special interests. In the meantime we have three main recommendations:

1. It should be as difficult as possible for a lobbyist to influence EU decision-making without signing-up to the EU Transparency Register

Unregistered lobbyists should not be able to get meetings, access the premises of the institutions or provide advice or input in hearings or expert groups. This should of course be the case for Commission, Council and Parliament, where some of these measures have indeed already been put in place. These measures should also include all politicians and officials that influence decisions or the legislative process. Although we applaud the Commission for the progress on lobby transparency it is somewhat strange that the entire negotiating team for TTIP for example is excluded from the provisions. It should be crystal clear that unregistered lobbyists are not welcome in any of the EU institutions.

2. We need to greatly improve the information the register provides. Entries shall be meaningful, accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive and available as open data

Currently, more than half of the entries in the lobby register do not even pass the most basic plausibility checks. There are organisations that declare hundreds of millions of lobby budget or 10,000s of lobbyists. The information that most of the lobbyists file with the voluntary register is inaccurate, incomplete or outright meaningless. We need a much better monitoring system (and Bruce has provided some ideas on how that could look like) with an improved online form that provides better guidance for lobbyists filing the registrations with automatic alerts for example. We also need a properly resourced and staffed secretariat and meaningful sanctions for those that do not play by the rules.

3. Thirdly, an EU Legislative Footprint shall record all influence by lobbyists on any EU decision or law

Meetings with lobbyists as well as their written input should be published so that the public – citizens, journalists and civil society – can monitor their influence. That is what we call a ‘legislative footprint’ that should be available for each decision and law. As mentioned, the European Commission has started on both aspects. We can now see some of the lobby meetings and Trade Commissioner Malmström publishes all written correspondence with lobbyists. And we have seen how well such information can be used when LobbyPlag exposed the extent of copy pasting of industry positions into amendments to the European Data Protection Directive. We would like to see the influence of lobbyists captured in a similar way for all laws and decisions and in all three institutions, so I hope that the Commission will extend the provisions down the hierarchy and that the other institutions will follow the example. Particularly for the European Parliament I hope that MEPs follow the good example of Julia and Sven that already publish their meetings with lobbyists on their websites. The bureau had been tasked to develop a standard format for this well over a year ago in the Gualtieri report, so I hope that results in a concrete proposal very soon.

Finally on the procedure of reforming the Lobby Register we urge the Institutions to opt for an open model with a public consultation and where the public can follow the discussions. Maybe meetings of the high level working group could be web-streamed? It would be a shame to try to bring about more lobby transparency through a completely opaque process with negotiations taking place behind closed doors.

So thanks again very much for having me and I am of course available to answer any and all questions you might have.

 

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Want to know more? Get in touch

Daniel Freund

Head of Advocacy EU Integrity
dfreund@transparency.org