After months of deliberation, the EU working group responsible for fixing the EU’s somewhat dysfunctional lobbying transparency register has concluded its review process without producing clear recommendations.
Rather than issuing a strong statement in favor of lobbying transparency, the working group released contradictory press statements that have created a great deal of confusion about the outcome of the deliberation. The European Commission’s press release introduces a collection of minor recommendations and makes no mention of a deal to make the register mandatory. It’s unclear if the EC’s recommendations are official. The European Parliament’s press release, on the other hand, states that the working group made recommendations that “should lead to a mandatory register.” Hundreds of civil society organizations and citizens urged the working group to address the register’s largest flaws, and these individuals deserve to know the outcome of the review.
Even if the recommendations published by the European Commission are official, they have serious shortcomings. They are limited in scope, fail to address the largest challenges facing the register, and bring into question the working groups commitment to lobbying transparency. Instead of addressing the biggest issues facing lobbying transparency, the commission elected to make several incremental, limited improvements to the registration and disclosure process.
According to the recommendations, mandatory registration was discussed, but was determined to be too “technically difficult to achieve.” The working group avoided the hard decisions that must be made, instead asking the Constitutional Affairs committee to consider the issue in advance of the next review process in 2017. We believe that citizens of the EU deserve to know who influences the government that represents them — and they deserve to know before 2017.
If the registry remains voluntary, it will fail to capture a majority of lobbying efforts. Currently, most law firms that lobby in Brussels are not registered, and small improvement to the incentives provided to registrants will not change this. Voluntary registers fail to provide the public with an accurate or complete picture of the policymaking process.
We’ve written about several lobbying reform efforts over the last few months. All of them seem to follow a dangerous pattern. While paying lip service to the importance of transparency and making some minor improvements to lobbying disclosure, none of these reforms efforts have tackled the largest issues. We believe mandatory registration and regular reporting are the foundation of lobbying transparency, and reform efforts should reflect this. For more from Sunlight on lobbying transparency, we urge you to take a look at our recently released lobbying disclosure guidelines.
Thanks to Corporate Europe Observatory for their dedicated coverage of this issue.