If you want to know who your MEP has met with and what they have been talking about it’s usually very difficult to find this information. They may have been discussing whether or not they can believe its butter with the European Margarine Association, or maybe how to get their shirts whiter with Starch Europe, or perhaps why on earth the British insist on having separate hot and cold taps with the European Association for the Taps and Valves Industry. The problem is for most MEPs we simply don’t know who they are meeting.
That’s why for a long time Transparency International EU has been calling for MEPs to publish details of their meetings with lobbyists online. We call this a legislative footprint. If it is possible to see who an MEP is meeting and on what topic then it greatly increases their accountability. If this information is online then it means that the public, journalists and civil society can make sure that MEPs are working in their interest.
As of this morning we have reason to be optimistic for progress on lobby transparency. Klaus Welle, the Secretary General of the European Parliament, said that MEPs should be able to display their lobby meetings on the European Parliament website when they are in charge of a legislative file (rapporteurs). While the language Welle used was loose and lacking in specifics, the fact that this is on the agenda is a step in the right direction.
Some MEPs such as the Brits and Greens have already taken their own initiative on this and have been uploading their meetings for some time on their own websites. To help other MEPs publish this info we are rolling out a new tool called LobbyCal. Essentially, the tool, once installed, allows MEPs to publish any meeting from an Outlook or Google calendar to a list of lobby meetings on an MEP’s website with just two clicks.
However, even with this data available for more and more MEPs, it remains difficult to get an overview of who is shaping decisions in the European Parliament. It would be much easier for citizens if the Parliament would have all MEPs to publish their meetings directly on their profiles on the Parliament’s website. This would also mean that the data would be in the same format for everyone and it you could compare MEPs.
Similar information about the lobby meetings of the European Commission is standardised, which means we can gather the information and analyse it with our own tools such as EU Integrity Watch. Since December 2014, the European Commission has published details for more than 7,000 meetings. That is why today’s announcement is a welcome sign that the Parliament is finally moving towards more transparency in this area as well.
Welle’s promise for rapporteurs is great, but the Parliament should allow any MEP to publish all their lobby meetings, not only the ones which are in charge of a specific file. Nevertheless, today’s announcement is a good signal in light of the upcoming negotiations for a mandatory lobby register which we expect to start in March with a public consultation.
Transparency is essential for democracy, that’s why it’s vital that we know the details of MEPs meetings. Be it representatives of marge, starch or taps, citizens have a right to know who their MEPs are meeting with.