Brussels lobbyists boycott register

29 January 2009

Brussels lobbyists boycott register

Self-regulation doesn't work: 80 per cent of Brussels lobby firms make absolutely nothing public via the European Commission's voluntary lobby register. Any citizen anxious to keep a check on the powers-that-be in Brussels will find that he or she will be left in the dark when it comes to the existence of such firms, their names, their clients and the money sloshing around the city's lobbying sector.

'According to estimates...'
There are in Brussels, according to reports, at least 15,000 lobbyists working for an estimated 2,600 lobbying organisations. Up to last Friday, only 458 Brussels lobbying firms or lobbying groups had registered on the European Commission's public list. together with a further 413 from outside the city. "A total of 871 names of organisations," Erik Meijer, SP Member of the European Parliament notes. "You can hardly call that even the tip of the iceberg. That the European Commission is trying to put a brave face on this tally and call the present list, after seven months of patient waiting, a 'good start', shows some nerve."

In the lair of the lobby-lion

Today, in the chic surroundings of the Brussels Residence Palace – the lobby-lion's lair – the critical organisation Alter EU made its first report on the issue public. The report makes mincemeat of the European Commission, attacking the way in which the European Commission is going about fulfilling its beautifully worded ambitions. Consider this quote, from the Commission's own website:

"By opening this voluntary Register, in the context of the European Transparency Initiative, the European Commission wishes to let citizens know which general or specific interests are influencing the decision-making process of the European Institutions and the resources mobilized to that end. Registrants have the opportunity to demonstrate their strong commitment to transparency and the full legitimacy of their activities."

"Their silence speaks volumes."

"I don't see any reason for optimism," says Meijer. "Should we now conclude that 80% of lobbyists go about their work in a way which is neither transparent nor legitimate? Their silence speaks volumes. The data produced by the sector gives no idea of how the powers that be in Brussels are influenced. A compulsory registration procedure with real sanctions for those who don't comply is the only thing which would work. It's noticeable that legal offices and think-tanks involved in lobbying are so sparsely represented on the list. The Commission shouldn't be sitting waiting for lobbyists to give up the necessary information, it should be pursuing them to do so."

After the elections?

"And it's very disappointing to me that the social democrat Jo Leinen, Chair of the European Parliament's Constitutional Committee, admitted this morning that he did not see keeping the Commission on its toes over this as an urgent matter. Leinen praised Alter-EU's efforts, but in the same breath said that the whole subject would be raised again after the elections on June 4th." As new Members do not take office until July, and their investiture is immediately followed by the summer recess, this effectively means September at the earliest.


As a 'punishment' for the fact that they had kept the identity of three of their clients under wraps, a British lobbying firm, G-plus, recently disappeared from the list. "The punishment of not complying with the Code of Conduct is the removal of the name of your office from this public list," says Meijer. "A remarkable sanction, which would only make sense if everyone who wasn't on the list were automatically placed on a blacklist. But I haven't heard anything of the sort from the Commission."

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