The European Parliament today adopted for the first time a binding rule on the transparency of lobbying. MEPs involved in new parliamentary decisions must publicly list their meetings with lobbyists (Legislative Footprint). The decision of the European Parliament within a reform of its Rules of Procedure was taken in a hard-fought and tight vote of 380 yes to 224 no with 26 abstentions. Only 4 Votes more than the needed 376. The decision is based on a Green amendment and the report on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions adopted by the European Parliament in 2017 and drafted by Sven Giegold. Thousands of citizens had taken part in collections of ideas and petitions to overcome blockades. The idea was taken up by rapporteur Richard Corbett (British Labour Party) and adopted by the Constitutional Committee. In the Constitutional Committee, Social Democrats, Greens, Left, Conservatives (ECR) and EFDD had voted in favour, Christian Democrats (EPP) and Liberals against. For today’s plenary vote, the Christian Democrats had even insisted regarding lobby transparency on the first secret vote (on something else but a nomination of a person) since many years.
The binding lobby transparency introduced today in Parliament also improves its position in negotiations with the Commission and the Council of Member States for a stronger transparency register for lobbyists. Binding lobby transparency instead of voluntary lobby transparency fulfils the condition of the EU Commission for an agreement in the negotiations blocked since June 2018. The European Parliament can still approve a new agreement between the institutions until 17 April. Otherwise the new Parliament would have to work out a new negotiating position after the European elections.
Sven Giegold, spokesman for Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in the European Parliament and its rapporteur for transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions, said:
„More transparency in lobbying strengthens confidence in the European Parliament. The European Parliament’s new transparency rule is a major step forward for European Democracy. In future, citizens will have clarity about the influence of lobbying on laws. Through the Legislative Footprint, citizens will already know which lobbyists are influencing a law when it comes into being. This means practically transparency in real time. The influence of powerful interests on EU laws will allow better containment in the future. Again the European Parliament is a leader in transparency. National parliament should follow this good example.
The voluntary register of transparency allows only a rough overview of the approximately 12,000 lobby organisations in Brussels. The binding legislative footprint of the Parliament, together with the binding lobby rules for the EU Commission, allows a higher degree of transparency in EU legislation. The new rules strengthen European democracy in many respects: in future it will be transparent whether a Green has not met enough business representatives when writing a law or whether another member of parliament has neglected civil society. For four years we Greens have worked towards this success. But also the pressure from thousands of citizens and many NGOs is now bearing fruit.
The courageous decision of the European Parliament clears the way for a stronger EU Transparency Register for lobbyists. 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. It is now time for all Commission staff involved in EU legislation 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 given the progress made today. 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 as part of their Council presidency. 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 in transparency in Europe, the attacks of populists will have no effect. The EU Commission, first and foremost Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, supported the green amendments from early on and also contributed to today’s success. Frans Timmermans should make agreement possible with a new offer from the EU Commission for his own progress. In the European election campaign, Manfred Weber will face tough questions why he did not stop his group’s ghost ride on transparency policy. From now, the Christian Democrats should regain lost confidence by helping to implement the Legislative Footprint as citizen-friendly as possible. The Christian Democrats should finally use their power in Parliament’s Bureau in support of transparency instead of for blockade.“
Other decisions in the context of the reform of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament concern:
Parliament rejected an amendment to the rules governing the formation of political groups. The majority will not gain the power to dissolve an unwelcome small political group. The proposal of an „affinity test“ between members came without objective criteria. This is why Greens voted against the proposal.
It will be easier to compare how transparent Members use their General Expenditure Allowance. (The EPP had also requested a secret ballot for this.)
A signature under the code of appropriate behaviour against sexual harassment will be a prerequisite to be able to take on additional tasks in Parliament.
The article of the Rules of Procedure adopted today:
Rule 11a : Members’ financial interests and Transparency register
2. Members should adopt the systematic practice of only meeting interest representatives that have registered in the Transparency Register established by means of the Agreement between the European Parliament and the European Commission on the transparency register.
3 Members should publish online all scheduled meetings with interest representatives falling under the scope of the Transparency register. Without prejudice to Article 4(6) of Annex I, rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs shall, for each report, publish online all scheduled meetings with interest representatives falling under the scope of the Transparency register. The Bureau shall provide for necessary infrastructure on Parliament’s website.
4. The Bureau shall provide the necessary infrastructure on Members’ online page on Parliament’s website for those Members who wish to publish a voluntary audit or confirmation, as provided for under the applicable rules of the Statute for Members and its implementing rules, that their use of the General Expenditure Allowance complies with the applicable rules of the Statute for Members and its implementing measures.