EU institutions’ unregulated lobbying opens door to corruption

Daniel Freund
6 May, 2015

Political participation is a fundamental element in mature democratic systems, and governments should ensure that decisions are taken in the interests of citizens. Unfortunately, money and inside contacts often seem to be necessary to open the doors behind which policy-makers draw up pieces of legislation in Europe.

Transparency International’s recent report “Lobbying in Europe: Hidden Influence, Privileged Access” – the first-ever comprehensive assessment of lobbying across 19 European countries and three EU institutions – shows that rules regulating contacts between policy-makers and influencers are either missing or deficient. Only seven countries (Austria, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, and the UK) have regulation targeting lobbying in place, but, even in these cases, there are loopholes and/or the implementation is not adequate.

The absence of effective legislation on lobbying poses tangible risks of undue influence also on the three core EU institutions assessed in the report – namely the Commission, the Parliament, and the Council of the European Union. The average score [1] for the quality of lobbying regulation in these institutions is only 36 per cent, a performance that appears to be even more disappointing if considered that Brussels, with its estimated 15,000-30,000 lobbyists, is the hub of lobbying in the continent.

The Council of the European Union is the worst performing of the three institutions, partly due to the fact that it is not covered by the voluntary Transparency Register. Nevertheless, Transparency International points out that even the Commission and Parliament’s register systems should urgently be reformed. The EU Transparency Register has to be made mandatory and breaches of lobbying and transparency rules sanctioned.

A further step to be taken towards transparency in the EU is the introduction of the so-called “Legislative footprint” – a comprehensive public record of lobbyists’ influence on a piece of legislation (read more in our policy paper “EU Legislative Footprint: What’s the real influence of lobbying?”). Only by adopting this tool, EU decision-making can be more responsive to citizens and open to public scrutiny.

Another phenomenon representing a key risk leading to undue influence on EU political decisions is that of revolving doors, i.e. the free movement of public officials and other powerful individuals between the public and private sectors. In order to mitigate this critical risk, it is necessary to establish or amend minimum “cooling-off periods” before former public and elected officials can work in lobbying positions that may create or be seen to create conflicts of interest.

Recent scandals demonstrate that without clear and enforceable rules and regulations a select number of voices with more money and insider contacts can come to dominate political decision-making, usually for their own benefit.

“Unfair and opaque lobbying practices are one of the key corruption risks currently facing Europe,” said Elena Panfilova, Vice-Chair of Transparency International, “European countries and EU institutions must adopt robust lobbying regulations that cover the broad range of lobbyists who influence – directly or indirectly – any political decisions, policies or legislation. Otherwise, the lack of lobby control threatens to undermine democracy across the region.”


[1] The average is calculated by measuring 65 indicators that correspond to the three core dimensions of transparency, integrity and equality of access, which are considered to be a comprehensive approach to lobbying regulation.

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Daniel Freund

Head of Advocacy EU Integrity (on leave)