The EU lobby register is currently being reviewed and transparency campaigners are demanding that MEPs and the Commission shine a spotlight on Brussels' secret lobbyists. All citizens should have the right to know who is trying to gain influence on EU politics, with what budget, on which issues and on whose behalf.
It's more than two years since the EU Transparency Register was launched. Since then, nearly 6000 registrants have joined and Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, the Commissioner responsible, has said: “I believe that our efforts in the area of transparency are at the leading edge of most public bodies in the world”.
And yet, as research by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) coalition (of which WDM is a member) pointed out earlier this year, thousands of organisations remain outside the voluntary lobby register, including some of the corporate world's big names: ABN-Amro, Adidas, Rio Tinto plc, Time Warner and many others. Virtually all law firms that lobby on behalf of industry clients have not signed up either. Meanwhile, many of the companies and organisations that do register, fail to provide comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date information on their activities.
And there is no real sanction for this non-compliance: Commissioners and Commission officials continue to meet with unregistered lobbyists. As just one example, of the lobby meetings held by the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn in 2011, 62 per cent were with unregistered bodies.
The only way for this situation to drastically improve is for the lobby register to become mandatory, as the European Parliament voted in May 2011. All citizens should have the right to know who is trying to gain influence on EU politics, with what budget, on which issues and on whose behalf. And until the new register completes its journey through the EU's complex decision-making process, interim measures should be put in place to firmly tighten up on the existing rules, including banning those Commission meetings with unregistered lobbyists.
The existing lobby register is currently under review by MEPs and the Commission, in a process chaired by Rainer Wieland MEP, the Parliament's Vice President for Transparency issues. Ironically, it is not easy to find out about their deliberations but it is a unique opportunity to introduce much-needed reforms.
However, the mood music emerging from within the review group is not positive. A spokesman for Commissioner Šefčovič, is quoted as recently saying: “I’m not sure that the aim [of the review] is to make significant changes…it’s more a fine tuning in light of the first two years of experience.”
That's why ALTER-EU has launched an e-petition to demand that the 20,000 lobbyists in Brussels are properly regulated. We need to shine a spotlight on secretive and unethical lobbying and ensure that Mr Wieland's review group recommends the adoption of an ambitious - and mandatory - lobby register.