Thanks to Timmermans, compulsory lobby register put on hold

7 April 2019

Thanks to Timmermans, compulsory lobby register put on hold

European Commissioner Frans Timmermans is out campaigning. Trekking from town to town he clearly has less time for his own work at the European Commission. The rules do allow Commissioners to campaign for the European elections, but they must first have completed their own work. And in the case of the Lobby Register, it's clear that Timmermans hasn't. Instead of taking part in decisive negotiations with the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers in the week beginning April 15th, Timmermans is crying off. He claims that this is because he isn't happy with the position adopted by the EP and the Council, though the Parliament negotiators say that he's simply being obstructive. And this is the Commissioner who always prides himself on his fight for more transparency. That image has now gone for good. At decisive moments he always lets it drop.

From the word go it was evident what Timmermans' tactics would be. In his view, MEPs and member states' ambassadors should restrict their contacts to registered lobbyists. Content-wise I completely agree, but the cunning Commissioner knew very well that MEPs would be able to call on the fact they enjoy a 'free' mandate and that the ambassadors and their staff are paid by the member state they represent, making it impossible to impose all sorts of rules on them. That's a matter for the national governments and their parliaments.

The EP Legal Services and those of the Council have assiduously sought a way out of this, and one was indeed found: the obligation would be imposed only on those MEPs and ambassadors performing a formal function. If a MEP wishes to be rapporteur for a certain subject, fine, but he or she will then have to stick to the rules. The same goes for the ambassador whose country is occupying the EU's rotating presidency and his or her staff. That would mean that it's no longer a purely national question and so you can impose European rules.

Timmermans is, however, sticking to his guns: it's all or nothing. This compromise solution, which would give what is legally possible, he has nevertheless rejected out of hand. It's possible that Timmermans will be off campaigning during Strasbourg week when the meeting is scheduled to take place, and has no time for the negotiations. The least you could say about that is that he's being less than transparent in his attitude. But I'm afraid that the reality is that the European Commission doesn't want to see an obligatory transparency register. Perhaps too many lobbyists lobbied the Commission to reject the idea. In any case, everyone now knows that you shouldn't vote for Timmermans if you believe transparency to be important. So much is clear – you might even say transparent.

You are here