After years of a long conflict, we achieved today in the European Parliament a great success for more transparency in lobbying: For the first time, Parliament has adopted binding rules on lobby transparency. MEPs involved in new parliamentary decisions must publicly list their meetings with lobbyists (legislative footprint). The decision of the European Parliament within the framework of a reform of its Rules of Procedure was taken in a hard-fought and tight vote with 380 yes to 224 no with 26 abstentions. That was only 4 votes more than the required 376 votes. The Christian Democrats had insisted, regarding lobby transparency, on the first secret vote (except the nomination of persons) for many years. Today’s decision for more lobby transparency is based on a Green amendment and the report I drafted on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions, adopted by the European Parliament in 2017. Thousands of citizens had taken part in collections of ideas and petitions to overcome blockades. Special thanks go to the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Transparency International, LobbyControl, the ALTER EU network, WeMove*eu, Corporate Europe Observatory, Democracy International, change*org, Friends of the Earth and Access Info, as well as the hundreds of thousands of citizens who supported petitions and wrote e-mails. Without their years of work, this success would not have been possible!
More transparency in lobbying strengthens confidence in the European Parliament. In future, citizens will be able to see how lobbying influences laws. Through the so-called “legislative footprint”, they will learn which lobbyists have an influence on the creation of a law. As soon as the decision has been implemented, this means practically transparency in real time. The influence of powerful interests on EU laws can be better contained in the future. The voluntary transparency register, which has been in place until now, only allows a rough overview of the 12,000 or so lobby organisations in Brussels. The binding legislative footprint of the Parliament, together with the binding lobby rules for the EU Commission, allows a much higher degree of transparency. The new rules strengthen European democracy in many ways: In the future it will be transparent whether parliamentarians listen to far too many one-sided and financially strong interests. For four years I have been working towards this success. I had to experience a number of hostilities in Parliament. This was all worth it! The success was only possible because the Green Group was united. My Green colleagues Swedish MEP Max Andersson, French MEP Pascal Durand, Hungarian MEP Benedek Javor and our colleagues Christian Beck (Germany), Melanie Vogel (France) and Pamela Bartlett Quintanilla (Spain) were particularly involved. This Green teamwork is also Europe!
The courageous decision of the European Parliament clears the way for a stronger transparency register for lobbyists. The Parliament is now putting pressure on the EU Commission to expand its lobby transparency as well. The Commission has already commendably obliged Commissioners, their cabinets and the Directors-General to meet only registered lobbyists. Now it is time for all Commission staff involved in EU laws to follow transparency rules. Parliament’s example highlights the failure of the Council of Member States so far. The homeopathic transparency offered so far by the Council cannot be maintained in the light of today’s progress. To date, 20 out of 28 governments have offered that the heads of their representations to the EU will refrain from meetings with unregistered lobbyists during their Council presidency and 6 months before. This is clearly too little for real lobby transparency in daily legislative work. The Council must finally introduce the same lobbying transparency for all employees of government representations involved in EU legislation.
The Commission and Council must reach agreement with Parliament on a stronger EU transparency register for lobbyists before the European elections. Transparency takes the wind out of the sails of populists’ attacks on the EU. If the Commission, along with Parliament, regains its leading position for transparency in Europe, many attacks by populists will be futile. The EU Commission, first and foremost Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, supported the Green amendments early on and also contributed to today’s success. Frans Timmermans should make a new offer to make progress in the EU Commission’s own lobby transparency possible. Ultimately, the Social Democrats in the European Parliament also supported the binding lobby transparency after a long period of unclear signals. In the European election campaign, Manfred Weber will have to ask himself why he did not stop his group’s ghost ride on transparency policy. From today, the Christian Democrats should regain lost confidence by helping to implement the Legislative Footprint as citizen-friendly as possible. They should finally use their power in Parliament’s Bureau to promote transparency rather than to block it.
Almost parallel to the decision of the European Parliament, the parliament of the German state Thuringia decided to be the first in Germany to introduce the Legislative Footprint. This is a great success for the Greens in Thuringia. Brussels and Thuringia are also sending a signal to Berlin: The Bundestag should also commit itself to more lobby transparency. The European Parliament is now several steps ahead in terms of transparency than national parliaments such as the German Bundestag. Our fight for more transparency in lobbyism has to continue on all levels!
For me personally, this has been one of the greatest successes in the European Parliament over the past nine years. It shows: Even against hard resistance from powerful interests, one can win with the help of democracy and through an alliance between progressive civil society and politicians! Europe can become more democratic and transparent than many member states ever were. I will keep course: Together we can set limits to the excessive power of big money in the process of globalisation. Europe is part of the solution!
With European green greetings
Yours, Sven Giegold
P.S.: Already over a thousand citizens support me in my campaign team for the European elections this year. I am happy about everyone who joins the campaign team: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/unterstuetze-sven-giegold