Christmas is just around the corner, but it seems there will be no early presents for the Brussels transparency community this year. On the 3rd of December, EU Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans admitted that he will not be able to stick to his promise of a mandatory register this year. Now, it looks like the process will be delayed until sometime in the spring.
Back in the autumn, we launched 4,253 official complaints against roughly half the organisations on the EU Transparency Register. At the time we and others had our suspicions that the overall quality of data on the Register was poor. However, the sheer scale of the problem, came as a shock to many.
For the under-staffed and under-funded Joint Transparency Register Secretariat (JTRS), tasked with the supervision of the Register, this has marked the beginning of a busy period. With limited resources, it was not possible for the JTRS to address all these complaints at once, so cases had to be prioritised and divided up into manageable batches. Now, three months on, it’s time again to assess the progress.
Where do we stand?
So far the Secretariat has tackled two groups of complaints:
- Of the 293 organisations that did not declare any activities 120 have updated their entries and 173 have been suspended.
- Of the 116 organisations declaring a budget of more than 1 million euros per lobbyist 50 have updated, 57 have been suspended with the remaining cases still pending
The remaining group of 3,844 complaints against those organisations declaring less than a minimum wage per lobbyist should be tackled in 2016. 159 of these organisations have already updated or left the register for reasons unrelated to the inquiry by the JTRS.
This leaves 3,685 – or 86% of complaints – untreated for the moment. Progress is slow but steady. Given the limited resources of the JTRS, the work so far shows a big effort. But if work continues at the current speed it would take until spring 2018 to finish with all our complaints.
And that would only correct the declarations we analysed in September. In the meantime new organisations are joining the register violating again the basic principles of meaningful and correct declarations. So while the Secretariat is busy dealing with old cases, new ones are already piling up.
Without addressing the structural problems of the current Register, the problem of poor data quality will not be solved any time soon.
What needs to be done?
What is needed is a culture change in the transparency of Brussels lobbying. A mandatory register combined with a proper monitoring system could fix the problem. We hope for a belated Christmas gift from Frans Timmermans in early 2016.