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New lobbyists' transparency register has yet to live up to its name

Posted by Nick Prag at 29 January 2015, 18:30 CET |
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The EU Transparency Register, re-launched this week by the Commission and European Parliament, is another positive step on the way to true transparency, but it has yet to live up to its name.

The Transparency Register is an inter-institutional tool set up by the Commission and the European Parliament to monitor the activities of the myriad lobbying firms that congregate around Brussels. Currently more than 7,000 bodies are signed up to it, representing more than 30,000 individuals.

This 'second generation' of the Register is an implementation of a revised inter-institutional agreement between Parliament and Commission last year.

It reflects a number of positive statements from the new Commission in their Parliamentary hearings before taking office. During his hearing, first vice-president Frans Timmermans promised the lobby register would become mandatory. For his part, EC president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker said that Commissioners should not meet with lobbyists who are not signed up to the European register.

The Commission says the latest rules offer a boost to a 'name and shame' system, where it is becoming easier to blow the whistle and to alert the Commission to false or misleading information from lobbyists.

This is a reference to so-called 'astro-turfing', where companies pretend to be something they are not, and hide behind front organisations or innocuous-sounding NGOs.

The process of change is under way. A major change – according to Karl Isaksson, Managing Partner at Kreab Gavin Anderson and Chairman of EPACA, the European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association, speaking to this week – is that Commission staff now make a point of asking if lobbyists are on the register or not before they agree to meetings. In some cases, you cannot get a meeting with a Commission cabinet if not on the register.

So the new Commission appears committed to transparency.

The next step comes in the Spring, when the Commission is promising to come forward with a concrete proposals – presumably to make the register mandatory.

We look forward to the new proposals, which should lead to a Transparency Register which can live up to its name. As Mr Juncker has stated, citizens have a right to know with whom the Commission, Council representatives and MEPs are meeting.

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Nick Prag

Nick Prag

Nick Prag is founder and managing editor of Prior to EUbusiness, he was senior editor at Europe Online SA in Luxembourg, where he played a major part in the launch of Europe Online International.