Rescue the Register! How to make EU lobby transparency credible and reliable

altereu_rescue_the_registerPublished by: Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation,  June 2013
Research and writing: Rachel Tansey, Olivier Hoedeman, Ester Arauzo et al. 
Rachel Tansey

Whilst working as a researcher and campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) 2012-2013, I was deeply involved in the lobby transparency campaign of Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), of which CEO is a steering committee member. This included co-researching and writing the Rescue the Register! report which through detailed analysis of the entries in the EU’s voluntary Transparency Register, makes a case for urgent reform to enable genuine public scrutiny of the access and influence being enjoyed by lobby groups, most crucially through legally mandatory lobby transparency. The executive summary is available below, and the report can be found on ALTER-EU’s website: Rescue the Register! (June 2013)

Executive summary

We have now reached a critical juncture in the debate on lobbying disclosure and reform in Brussels. The European Commission and European Parliament are reviewing their Joint Transparency Register, and considering how best to secure lobbying transparency at EU level. All the signs emerging from the Commission are that they would prefer to retain their voluntary and ‘light touch’ approach to lobbying regulation.

The findings of this report show that this approach is unsustainable, misguided and simply not credible. The experiment with the voluntary system to date, and the evidence presented in this report, clearly shows that the effectiveness of the voluntary register is unconvincing at best, and dismal at worst.

  • Over 100 large companies involved in EU lobbying are missing from the register, as are numerous consultancies, lobby groups and MEP-industry forums. Law firms that lobby continue to boycott the register, with the meaningful participation of law firms actually having decreased in the last year. With so many major players missing, the register is clearly not ‘de facto mandatory’.
  • The financial information in the register continues to be far too unreliable, with many of those that appear to be the biggest spenders in fact being small players. At the same time, there remains a big problem with large players under-reporting on the size of their lobby expenditure. The result is that the register gives a misleading picture of who is lobbying and with what resources.
  • Numerous entries in the register provide incomplete and outdated information, demonstrating that the register’s monitoring and enforcement remains far too unambitious.

Given the widespread and routine non-compliance with the register by many of the most active and effective lobbyists in Brussels, as documented in this report, the Commission simply cannot claim that the current system is working, or that it is likely to work in future.

The Commission appears to be in denial about the very obvious problems with the current system. Voluntary transparency permits those most reluctant to be transparent to continue lobbying in the shadows. There is compelling evidence that the voluntary approach is inherently problematic, and it is now clear that there is a legal base for adopting a mandatory approach. All that is currently missing is the political will to reform this broken system.

Report: Rescue the Register! (June 2013)

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