‘Stop Business as Usual’

10 November 2009

‘Stop Business as Usual’

On Tuesday 10th November a delegation from the SP's European Parliament group, accompanied by an enthusiastic band of SP activists who had travelled down from the Netherlands to Brussels for the occasion, kicked off a campaign for openness and honesty in the regulation of lobbying in the EU institutions. Distributing flyers at the doors of the European Parliament building, they called on MEPs, staff and passers-by to take action. The campaign's slogan 'Stop Business As Usual', is a reference to the enormous lobbying circus in Brussels, dominated as it is by big business.

SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong talks with a member of the public

The action was the closing act of a morning which had begun at a press conference given by Dennis de Jong, Chair of the SP group in the European Parliament. He used the conference to present his ten-point plan for more openness in regard to lobbying, and for reducing the influence of big corporations in favour of other groups, such as workers, consumers and small- and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). De Jong presented his arguments in the company of representatives of European consumers' organisations and of SMEs, as well as the lobby watchdog ALTER-EU.

Following the press conference, the first meeting took place of the cross-party coalition of Euro-MPs determined to achieve transparency in lobbying, an initiative of the SP together with MEPs from Denmark and Luxembourg. The group's first demand is for the compulsory registration of lobbyists. Who are these lobbyists, what interests do they represent, where do they get their finance and what do they spend this money on? The European Parliament has long supported such an obligatory register, but the European Commission finds a voluntary system satisfactory. "The Commission is perfectly happy that a quarter of these lobbyists have registered," says De Jong: "I don't see that as a satisfactory result at all, but one which shows that a compulsory register is certainly needed."

During the meeting, measures were proposed which the European Parliament could now take itself, without waiting for the Commission to move. For example, De Jong is urging Euro-MPs to sign a code of conduct declaring that they will not deal with unregistered lobbyists. In addition, he wants to see an end put to all promotional activities by commercial organisations within the parliament's buildings: every day sees cocktails, receptions, exhibitions and performances in which some major corporation touts itself. These should be stopped, and MEPs should not be allowed to accept expensive presents. "More than 50 euros is far too much," says De Jong, referring to the level at which such gifts, though still permitted, must be declared, an amount he finds astonishing. "It's all too voluntary and too free of any kind of control," he says.

Lastly the SP European Parliament group drew attention to the thousand 'expert groups' which the Commission has established: these groups are officially mere advisory bodies, but in practice they exercise enormous influence. Major multinationals have sufficient money and enough people to ensure that they are represented in all of these groups, which is not the case when it comes, for example, to environmental NGOs, consumer organisations or small businesses. The SP is trying to find out from the Commission the precise composition of these often secret groups and is demanding urgent measures to give them a more balanced make-up.

Tuesday's activities signalled the start of an ongoing campaign. The coalition of Euro-MPs committed to transparent lobbying is becoming increasingly broad, while the SP European Parliamentary group will work hard to ensure that other participating MEPs remain vigilant and that concrete results are achieved in the coming weeks and months. One of the first steps will be a critical interrogation of the candidates for membership of the new European Commission, which will begin early in January.

Ten action points for lobby transparency
SP European Parliamentary Group Action Plan, November 2009

  1. Compulsory inter-institutional (i.e. applying to European Commission, European Parliament and Council) register for professional lobbyists in Brussels. Register must clearly state the names of the lobbyists, their income and spending, and their activities.
  2. Openness on the part of the European Commission with regard to all consultation groups which it has instituted, including an explanation of the way in which they are drawn up. Adjustment of the rules where the composition of the group in question is not balanced. Reimbursement of group members' expenses, not only for travel and accommodation, but also of any costs involved in preparation of their work.
  3. Real, effective openness in relation to the public: no obstacles thrown up when individual citizens want concrete information. No excuses to do with a lack of specificity of requests, but rather a 'customer-friendly' attitude on the part of the EU institutions. No broad application of grounds for exception.
  4. Every European Parliament report to state explicitly which organisations were consulted and how this was done.
  5. Receptions and dinners within the European Parliament buildings will no longer be paid by third parties. If a MEP is the guest at a meeting with external organisations, he or she should bear all costs connected to the meeting in question.
  6. Clandestine advertising within the EP must be forbidden: no posters or other advertising material from commercial organisations to be allowed any longer inside the EP buildings.
  7. All Euro-MPs are called upon to sign a code of conduct in which they state that they will always ask lobbyists whether or not they are registered and in principle will have no contact with unregistered lobbyists.
  8. Call on all Euro-MPs not to accept gifts whose value exceeds 50 euros. MEPs should also make no use of special discounts, such as are, for example, often offered by car firms.
  9. Reduction in the number of agencies. Not only is there at present a veritable forest of agencies, some with overlapping mandates, but there is a lack of democratic control over their functioning. In the short term we demand more transparency, so that agencies are not merely answerable indirectly to the Commission.
  10. Call on Euro-MPs who participate in so-called Forums where they cooperate with, as things stand, purely commercial institutions, to make every effort to broaden these Forums so that they involve all affected groups and, if such broadening is refused by the commercial parties, no longer to participate.

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