November 6, 2015
Citizens are concerned about lobbyists’ influence in EU policy-making. They want better regulation of their lobbying activities, as well as increased transparency. In 2011, the Commission jointly launched with the European Parliament the Transparency Register. The register requires information about who is engaged in lobbying activity, the reason for it, and with what resources. It also includes a renewed code of conduct for lobbyists.
However, there are issues regarding the reliability of data and the Register’s actual enforcement. Indeed, numerous examples of register entries have revealed inconsistencies and were lacking in accuracy.
Moreover, the Transparency Register remains voluntary so there is no guarantee that an accurate picture of lobbying activities in the EU is presented to the citizens. This situation raises concerns that lobbyists are operating out of the spotlight which is worrisome when taking into account the considerable influence they can have on legislation of a technical nature, in particular. Transparency must be restored.
The recent VW scandal revealed an ugly truth about the Brussels world and raised the question of who’s really behind EU decision-making. What is sure is that the €18.5 million (Greenpeace investigation) spent by manufacturers of ‘low emission’ diesel vehicles on lobbying the EU has definitely outweighed citizen’s voices and (vital) interests.
The way forward?
The European Parliament approved tougher rules and called on the Commission to make the Transparency Register mandatory by 2017. The agreed deadline appears however too far away, whilst the VW scandal should have been the opportunity to pressure governments into accepting such a proposal.
On the other hand, when newspapers revealed that the ‘Parliament will implement a new set of rules in order to encourage lobbyists to sign up the to register’, it seems quite light when having in mind that the many attempts to control lobbying activities for the past decade have simply failed. The EU needs to react in a more substantial way in order to be taken seriously on this issue or we might be tempted over time to believe that EU regulation has been ‘captured’ by corporate lobbying.
It’s time to listen to grassroots voices
The 1989 Generation Initiative is standing up for stricter and more ethical lobbying rules in the European Union. Several points are currently under discussion on its crowdsourcing platform:
The disclosure of the car-testing scandal has revealed the necessity to create a sanctioning mechanism also for MEPs. Those who do not meet the standards of ethical behavior should face temporary suspension from Parliament.
A mandatory lobbying register must go hand in hand with a system of meaningful verification and increased resources devoted to the monitoring of lobbying activities.
A « legislative footprint » must be attached to all reports produced by the European Parliament during the decision-making process. Firstly, this would provide full awareness of which lobbyist has influenced what piece of legislation. Secondly, conflicts of interests would be detected and immediately addressed.
In order to avoid the assumption that power comes with money, we must find a way to better balance the representation of broader societal interests through fair consultation with organisations of less resources.
by Barbara Aubin1989 Generation Initiative