European Commission VP Frans Timmermans attended an open group meeting of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament yesterday (4 Feb), answering questions. MEP Sven Giegold pressed him on the suggested legal basis for the mandatory lobby register.
Indeed the European Commission has included the proposal for an Inter-Institutional Agreement between Commission, Council and Parliament for a mandatory lobby register in its work programme for 2015. Transparency International EU has welcomed recent transparency efforts by the European Commission, particularly the publication of lobby meetings and the exclusion of meetings with unregistered lobbyists. We also very much support VP Timmermans in his call that the other EU institutions follow the example of the European Commission. He is spot on when he says that the political will is more important than the legal instruments.
Nevertheless, when it comes to the mandatory lobby register we are unsure if the Commission will be able to keep its promise. The suggested legal basis of an Inter-Institutional Agreement seems ill-fitted and it remains unclear how “mandatory” it could be – especially for lobbyists.
Pressed on the issue Timmermans said that this issue hadn’t come to his attention so far, but that he would be open to look at other instruments if necessary. Transparency International EU has been advocating for a mandatory lobby register with a meaningful verification and sanctioning mechanism since 2008. We clearly see the limits of the current voluntary system, that is based on an Inter-Institutional Agreement.
In our opinion a legislative proposal is needed to make rules and transparency obligations binding for Brussels’ lobbyists, but we understand that without a clear legal basis in the treaties that the process might take some time.
In the meantime we suggest to call the new proposal by its name: “a revised voluntary register”. There are a number of screws that can be tightened and the Commission is leading by example. And we fully support that. But until signup to the register is mandatory for those it seeks to register – the lobbyists – we will have trouble calling it “mandatory”.