Today, the leadership of Christian-Democrats (EPP), Social-Democrats (S&D) and Liberals (ALDE) in the European Parliament turned a corner for negotiations with EU Commission and Council for a stronger Transparency Register for lobbyists last minute to avoid driving them over the cliff. Parliament’s lead-negotiators Sylvie Guillaume (S&D, FR, EP vice-president) and Danuta Hübner (EPP, PL, AFCO chair) had proposed to implement Parliament’s negotiations offers and suspend negotiations until end of 2019. Under pressure of Greens, Left, ECR and Five Stars as well as NGOs, the bigger groups gave in and sent the discussion back to the transparency experts of political groups. But the next cliffedge is coming up.
Since April, Commission, Parliament and Council have been negotiating for an update of the EU Transparency Register. In July, the Commission reconfirmed they will not accept any deal without new hard rules for decision-makers in Parliament and Council. Prior to that, Parliament and Council had made further concessions. Parliament stepped up its position by inviting Members of the European Parliament to sign a declaration committing to follow the „systematic practice“ of meeting only registered lobbyists. MEPs can make this declaration and their meetings with lobbyists transparent in their personal profiles on the European Parliament’s website. Both remain voluntary for MEPs, but make it easier for citizen, NGOs and the media, to compare MEPs transparency. Consequently, public pressure will increase the currently low number of voluntary self-commitments and voluntary lobby transparency. The Council slowly followed by proposing a declaration by willing Member States. In this declaration, the Permanent Representative, his deputy for the six-month Council Presidency and the six months before commit to meet only registered lobbyists. Currently, about 20 out of 28 member states are willing to implement these actions. Following that logic, Member States’ representatives would only adhere to the rules of the transparency register every 13 years when taking over the rotating presidency. Both Parliament and Council rejected to oblige to any group of decision makers. Parliament, therefore, is now left to either offer some hard rules for MEP’s lobby transparency or to end the negotiations.
Christian-Democrats and Social-Democrats so far are opposed to binding lobby rules. The lead negotiators proposed to end negotiations and leave the problem to their successors after elections in May 2019. They blame the EU-treaties not to leave them any choice. On 13 September, they wrote to Parliament’s President Antonio Tajani (EPP/Forza Italia, IT): “We of course regret this but it seems clear to us, not at least given the legal constraints related to Members’ independent mandate, that there is no legal space for further concessions by Parliament on conditionality at this point in time.” Referring to their offer of voluntary declarations on lobby transparency by willing MEPs, they suggest “First, Parliament should introduce the ten measures endorsed in principle by the Conference of Presidents on 27 June 2018. … Second, … if the other institutions are not able to demonstrate the same willingness, we believe, as regards the negotiations themselves, that the three institutions could agree to launch an internal reflection period on all the provisions of the draft IIA [Inter-Institutional Agreement] with the view to resuming negotiations once we have a new Parliament and new Commission”.
The lead negotiators Guillaume and Hübner were appointed back in October 2016, by the group leaders along with a Contact Group of one representative per political group to consult with for important decision (comparable to “shadows” usually following draft EU laws). Yet, the lead negotiators decided to send their request to end negotiations without even informing this Contact Group. The Members of the Contact Group only received it Wednesday, the day before the possible decision in today’s (Thursday) so called “Conference of Presidents”, the meeting of group leaders. As Greens/EFA we protested along with ECR-Conservatives, Left, Italian 5 Stars and finally were even supported by the Liberals against a decision without prior consultation with all political groups. NGOs, especially Transparency International and LobbyControl joined in. Under this pressure, negotiators and group presidents of Christian-Democrats, Social-Democrats and Liberals gave in and green light to continue negotiations, at least for the short terms.
While today’s decision stopped ending negotiations, it might kill the prospect for more transparency of lobbying activities in the Parliament. Since November 2014, Commission went ahead obliging its highest three levels of decision-makers to hard lobby transparency rules. Commissioners, their Cabinets and Director Generals only meet registered lobbyists and publish their meetings. Therefore, Commission declared to suspend negotiations in a next political meeting for until Parliament or Council are ready to oblige some of their decision-makers to similar rules. Parliament’s lead negotiator’s claim, “not at least given the legal constraints related to Members’ independent mandate, that there is no legal space for further concessions by Parliament on conditionality at this point in time”. This is false. To oblige those MEPs who negotiate EU laws to publish their lobby meetings is legally feasible and enough to strike a deal with Commission. Such a mandatory legislative footprint is what Commission asks for a deal, is compatible with the freedom of MEPs’ mandate as it concerns only those MEP’s who chose to represent Parliament as a whole and it would mean a big leap forward for citizen’s ability to see who’s influencing their laws. Greens, ECR and the Left suggested this repeatedly.
Letting the negotiations fail that have been taking place for almost three years now, would be wrong and dangerous. It would send a terrible signal to citizens ahead of next year’s European elections implying that their concerns about the influence of lobbyists on EU decision-making are not being taken seriously. Pro-Europeans in the Parliament must avoid to do what anti-Europeans are just waiting for. Christian-Democrats, Social-Democrats and Liberals have to get serious in considering mandatory lobby rules for selected decision-makers in Parliament in the upcoming Contact Group meeting.
On 10 October, the Contact Group will discuss in detail the way forward and prepare the next inter-institutional meeting. The invitation only arrived today, just when the Conference of Presidents began. The next meeting of Parliament, Commission and Council is scheduled so far for 23 October.
Beside the lead negotiators, main responsibility rests with 4 German MEPs: Spitzenkandidat-hopeful Manfred Weber (EPP/CSU), Udo Bullmann (S&D/SPD) as leaders of the two biggest groups, Rainer Wieland (EPP/CDU), and Jo Leinen (S&D/SPD) as the same group’s representatives in the Contact Group on the Transparency Register.
As Greens/EFA we continue to work for lobby transparency to become binding also for Parliament’s decision makers. The big power to make EU laws must come with respective responsibility to be transparent about lobbying.
With Green European greetings
Lead negotiators’ request to end negotiations: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/2018-09-13_Guillaume-Hübner-to-Tajani_TransparencyRegister.pdf
Lead negotiators’ 10 point plan for voluntary transparency: http://www.epgencms.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/upload/0797dae0-9ac7-4df0-b8f7-de9c16a613ae/2018_06_27_EP_transparency_package_-_proposals_to_strengthen_conditionality.pdf