Influence of lobbyists in Europe is undermining democracy

15 April 2015

Influence of lobbyists in Europe is undermining democracy

Corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) today published its report on the influence of lobbyists in Europe. The situation it describes is alarming: neither the European Union’s institutions nor the majority of member states has effective legislation to counter the undue influence of lobbyists. Commenting on the report, SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong says ‘TI have shown that a lot of lobbying practices take place in dark corners, that there is a constant risk of conflicts of interest among politicians and officials both in Brussels and the member states, most of them emanating from representatives of major corporations. This is undermining democracy. That’s why in Brussels we need to immediately set up a compulsory lobby register and use a “footprint” to make it clear which lobbyists have influenced the European Commission’s legislative proposals and legislative reports from the European Parliament.’

For years the SP has been urging that more attention be given to the problem of transparency in the European Parliament (EP). Last year the EP voted in favour of a proposal brought by De Jong to establish an official Intergroup – a network of MEPs from different political tendencies – to discuss the issue. ‘Almost a hundred Members have since signed up,’ says De Jong. ‘They share the view that while lobbying is in itself a legitimate activity, we really need to know who is meeting which lobbyists, what influence lobbyists have on European legislation. We need solid guarantees of a certain balance between the influence of lobbyists from major corporations and those who come, for example, from smaller firms, from the trade union movement, from environmental activists and consumer groups.’

The Intergroup wants to see rapid, concrete results, as De Jong explains. ‘We want to see an official legislative proposal as soon as possible for the establishment of a compulsory European lobby register. The existing voluntary register is completely unsatisfactory. Too few lobbyists bother to add their names and the results are hardly monitored to see whether the data presented are accurate. In addition, the Commission should be obliged to make clear which lobbyists have had influence on particular legislative proposals, as should the European Parliament as soon as a report on such a proposal is being written. The Code of Conduct for Euro-MPs must be tightened up to prevent conflicts of interest, given how many moonlight at private companies, legal practices and financial institutions. Finally the rules must be made more effective in relation to conflicts of interest which might follow the end of a Member’s mandate. Too often and too quickly ex-MEPs accept positions in a sector for which they have been responsible in the European Parliament. There should at least be a cooling-off period of three years between leaving the Parliament and accepting such a position.’

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