On Wednesday 27 June, the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents of the political groups adopted a package for more lobby transparency. Members of the European Parliament can now sign a declaration committing to follow the “systematic practice” of meeting only registered lobbyists. MEPs can make these declarations and their meetings with lobbyists transparent in their personal profiles on the European Parliament’s website. Both remain voluntary for MEPs, but become much easier to compare for citizens, NGOs and the media, so that public pressure will increase the currently low number of voluntary self-commitments and voluntary lobby transparency. In addition, non-registered lobbyists will be denied access to the European Parliament as guests of MEPs and as speakers of any events.
The package strengthens Parliament’s position in negotiations with the EU Commission and the Council of Member States on improving the existing EU Transparency Register for lobbyists. The negotiations had stalled also because Parliament’s lead negotiators, French Social-Democrat Sylvie Guillaume and Polish Christian-Democrat Danuta Hübner, did not want to offer comparable improvements in lobby transparency in Parliament as the recent bold moves in the Commission. The measures now adopted by the group presidents in Parliament largely correspond to the demands of my September 2017 European Parliament report on “Transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions”. The previous positions initiated by the lead negotiators, i.e. the negotiating mandate adopted in June 2017 and the four-column document of April 2018, had been weaker. These decisions had previously been taken by Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals against Greens and the ECR group.
Formally, the adaptation of the Parliament’s homepage still requires a final confirmation by the Bureau of the European Parliament at its meeting today, Monday 2 July. A next negotiation meeting of the three EU institutions on the Transparency Register is expected to take place in Strasbourg tomorrow, Tuesday evening, 3 July.
With regard to transparency in the Council of Member States, the Council has now proposed a declaration by the Member States to improve its negotiating position. In it, the Permanent Representative and 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 ready to do so.
The European Parliament’s rapporteur for transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions, Sven Giegold, comments:
“The group president’s decision is a big step towards greater clarity for citizens as to who influences their representatives. The declaration of honour to meet only registered lobbyists and the possibility to make meetings transparent are voluntary, but ease comparison and thereby help for a more binding Transparency Register. The tough line taken by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans convinced the the European Parliament’s grand blockade coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals who blocked against more transparency so far to give in. The pressure from NGOs and the public paid off. The looming failure of the negotiations for a reform of the EU Transparency Register should thus have been prevented.
However, the grand blockade coalition is still not ready for binding lobby transparency for rapporteurs and committee chairs. The freedom of the mandate of MEPs, often argued not to allow for binding rules for MEPs, does not contradict an obligation to publish all lobby meetings of rapporteurs and committee chairs. The special power to write EU laws should come with additional obligations for more transparency. The current package is a major step towards greater lobby transparency. However, our goal remains binding lobby transparency for all Members.
The notoriously opaque Council is improving its weak position even less than Parliament. It is shameful that the Permanent Representations of the Member States to the EU only want to adhere to the rules of the transparency register every 13 years when taking over the rotating presidency. The Permanent Representations should always comply with the rules of the Transparency Register, from the head to the staff attending Council working groups.”
European Parliament press release on the decision by the group presidents in favour of the new transparency package: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20180627IPR06705/new-package-of-transparency-tools-for-meps