On Thursday 31 January, the European Parliament will vote on a reform of its Rules of Procedure. This vote will be the most important decision on lobbying transparency in this legislature. So far, recommendations for voluntary lobby transparency by MEPs have mostly been ignored. Now, a binding legislative footprint is within reach. In the legislative footprint, rapporteurs of legislative projects, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs document which lobbyists they have met for a report. If the lobbying of powerful interests becomes transparent, their influence can also be contained. That would be a milestone for European Democracy. Non-governmental organisations such as Transparency International or ALTER-EU, thousands of citizens and Parliament’s resolution on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions have demanded this for years. It is high time for citizens to know which lobbyists influence MEPs when they write new EU laws.
The vote on the mandatory legislative footprint, however, is threatened to end in bitter irony of an intransparent decision on transparency. Two weeks ago, in a poorly attended meeting, the Christian Democrat Group decided to request a secret ballot for the vote on transparency of lobbying. Parliament has the strong tradition to decide important issues by a roll-call vote listing who votes yes, who voted no. We call on the Christian Democrats to withdraw their decision and to stand by their voting behaviour in public.
There are, however, other important issues to be resolved in the reform of the Rules of Procedure:
In response, also to the #metoo debate, Parliament’s Bureau has adopted a Code of appropriate behaviour against sexuel harassment. In relation to staff, MEPs thereby commit not to use insulting or disparaging language. If allegations are investigated, MEPs undertake to cooperate as soon as possible. Although this was agreed by consensus by a working group of all political groups, Christian-Democrats question the binding nature of these new rules. Some in the EPP group discuss a split vote on whether no one in Parliament who fails to sign this code of conduct should actually be allowed to take on an additional role. It is currently unclear whether the Christian Democrats’ desire for a secret ballot also applies to this decision. There must not be a secret coalition of parliamentary machos.
The plenary will also decide whether the transparency of Members’ expenditures from their General Expenditure Allowance will finally be comparable. So far, it is hardly possible to check whether MEPs keep receipts for the use of the monthly 4,416 euros and adhere to the rules. It will be put to the vote that MEPs can post an auditor’s certificate on their online profiles on Parliament’s website. Simple comparability would significantly increase the pressure to comply with the rules.
New amendments to the rules for the formation of political groups in Parliament had led to the postponement of the vote originally scheduled for mid-January to 31 January. However, the Greens were able to resolve the conflict to a large extent in negotiations with Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals. The Greens had rejected the other group’s proposal that a new group needs the permission of the other group presidents. Instead of an intransparent decision in the exclusive conference of presidents of political groups, however, the plenary should now decide transparently. The Green Group will decide on the voting behaviour in the group meeting after a detailed examination of the compromise proposal.
115 days before the European elections, the European Parliament’s vote on a reform of its rules of procedure can set the tone. The farce of a secret vote on the transparency of lobbyism and parliamentary expenses would be a welcome gift to populists for new attacks on Europe. A vote in favour of more transparency for lobbying and MEP expenses would show the strength of European democracy delivering to the expectations of its citizens.
With green European greetings
Code of appropriate behaviour for MEPs in exercising their duties: https://g8fip1kplyr33r3krz5b97d1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ParliamentHarrassmentCodeofConduct.pdf
Lobby Transparency Green MEP: https://lobbycal.greens-efa-service.eu/all/