25 May 2020

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A win for lobbying transparency

by The Good Lobby

The EU budget was approved in the European Parliament, during which MEPs voted for new amendments on lobbying transparency. Now, citizens have more visibility on meetings between MEPs and lobbyists. 

 

The EU budget relief is an opportunity for elected representatives to decide whether EU funds have been spent correctly. During this time, the European Parliament and the European Council analyze the EU Commission’s adherence to the EU budget and make recommendations to reform current laws. The Anti-Corruption Intergroup has successfully collaborated with EU entities to shape several amendments in the areas of integrity and transparency.

Following the joint letter addressed by the Intergroup earlier this year, President Sassoli had already committed to connecting the process of the publication of the Members of European Parliament’s lobby meetings with the Legislative Observatory and Transparency Register. Now, the European Parliament has voted for a new amendment co-signed by a number of Intergroup MEPs to further develop the process.

Law Professor at HEC Paris and founder of The Good Lobby, Alberto Alemanno, says that “the latest developments by the EU Parliament show a genuine commitment towards embracing a legislative footprint as one of the privileged tools to ensure transparency and accountability of EU policymaking. This is more about setting up new social norms than imposing new legal requirements”.

MEP Daniel Freund has been involved in the anti-corruption work with the EU Institutions and the NGO Transparency International. He had a critical role in advancing these changes. By helping to build an integrity watch, his efforts were instrumental in convincing European Commissioners and Members of the European Parliament to widely publish their meetings with lobbyists. Rules relating to lobbying have been in place since the start of the current mandate, but Daniel Freund says that there were a few functionalities in the process that “were not the most intuitive or making it easy for anyone outside to really use the information”. Referring to the latest amendments, he explains:

“What we got now, doesn’t really change that much for the way MEPs publish the lobby meetings, but does a lot in terms of anyone using that data that they provide in two main respects. One, we’re linking the publication of lobby meetings to the transparency register. That just makes it much easier to find the organization. It also ensures that there’s no trouble in terms of spelling the name of the organization wrong. The other link is with the legislative observatory. It’s basically the database of all the laws that are currently being negotiated. If one looks at the list of my meetings and I have the meeting, for example, on some sort of transport file that I work on in the, in the transport committee, one can click on the link and then see the page of the file in the legislative observatory where one can immediately see the commission proposal, what kind of amendments have been tabled in the parliament, who are the shadows, who are the repertoires for the file and so on. One gets quite a bit of information on the legislative file itself.”

In Freund’s eyes, the goal is for everyone to see how a certain piece of legislation or a certain decision has been made, what lobbyists have influenced it, who the organizations are, how much money they have, where their funding is coming from, and what kind of topics they work on. “What we’re working towards is being fully transparent for the entirety of the EU decision-making process. This can lead to a situation where decision-makers realize how much to adjust in terms of listening to certain actors, pay more attention and make more of an effort to get a diverse picture,” says the MEP.

In order for that to happen, he says that there is a need to bring the Council on board with the latest developments. “We are restarting the negotiations on the mandatory lobby register. I think this will really be about bringing the Council into the system because there are three institutions that together make legislation in the EU: Commission, Parliament and Council. Council is the one that is lagging behind. There are some particular legal challenges in making the council transparent. The Council is not only lagging behind on sort of lobbying transparency, but they are lagging behind in general on transparency around the legislative process,” explains MEP Daniel Freund. 

MEP Daniel Freund concludes that the work on making lobbying fully transparent is a never-ending process: “Providing transparency on decision making is a little bit of a cat and mouse game where some actors will always try to hide what they’re doing and then you need to adjust the rules so that will be not possible anymore.” 

Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto