The European Transparency Initiative
The idea of the ETI was initially debated amongst EU Commissioners in May 2005, with the ETI becoming formally adopted on 9th November the same year. A Green Paper was published in May 2006 to launch a debate/consultation with all the stakeholders on how to improve transparency on the Community Funds, on the consultation with civil society and on the role of the lobbies and NGOs in the European institutions’ decision-making process – the consultation period ended on 31 August 2006.
The concept of the ETI itself was developed in response to the need to “reconnect Europe with its citizens and close both the physical and mental gap that makes it difficult for people to understand what Europe does and why it matters.” The aims of the ETI have therefore been to “increase openness and accessibility of EU institutions, raise awareness over the use of the EU budget and make the Union’s institutions more accountable to the public” with the intention to promote transparency in EU policy-making.
The issue of lobbying has been central to the ETI debate from the very beginning. In his speech at the launch of the ETI in Nottingham in 2005, Commissioner Kallas himself commented that: “Lobbyists can have considerable influence on legislation, in particular on proposals of a technical nature... But their transparency is too deficient in comparison to the impact of their activities.” The objective of the ALTER-EU’s campaign work has been, therefore, to ensure that comprehensive and mandatory rules on lobbying transparency and ethics become the tangible result of the ETI process.
However, the question of lobbying transparency and ethics has become one of the key and most debated components of the ETI process. The debate soon became polarised with opponents and supporters of lobbying disclosure dominating the discussion. EPACA (the European Public Affairs Consultancies Association) and SEAP (the Society for European Affairs Professionals), the major organisation representing for profit lobbyists have for long been opposing mandatory lobbying disclosure, defending secrecy and privileged access by advocating "self-regulation", voluntary codes of conduct and registration. Nowadays they no longer oppose mandatory registering as it would create a level-playing field. Commercial lobbyists have also argued against the inclusion of verifiable financial information concerning lobbying activities claiming that "money does not equate influence", that the process would be too burdensome and also contrary to their client’ right to privacy – although many of their clients are also US-based and have disclosed such information as part of the US regulation on lobby disclosure.
ALTER-EU has been concerned that a voluntary register will never “cover the landscape of European interest representatives as comprehensively as possible” or “ensure that decision-makers and the general public can identify and assess the strength of the most important driving forces behind a given lobbying activity” – two of the Commission’s stated objectives for the ETI Communication. For these reasons ALTER-EU has been advocating for a mandatory register and the development of a code of conduct for lobbyists, including the disclosure of financial information concerning lobbying activities. As Commissioner Kallas himself stated in his speech before the Federation of European and International Associations in Brussels: "Nobody would pay real money for lobby services without expecting something in return—and that something is influence."
At 23 June, 2011 the European Parliament and European Commission launched the so-called “Transparency Register”, the new joint Commission and Parliament register of interest representatives in the EU. As the new register brought a number of improvements, ALTER-EU welcomed it, although it stressed from the outset that several fundamental flaws remain. These should be fixed as soon as possible.
Crucial improvements include:
- Mandatory registration should remain the long-term goal of the Commission and Parliament. Preparations for a transition, at least by 2015, should start now;
- Full transparency regarding the size of lobbying consultancies’ clients in ranges of 10,000 euro;
- Safeguards against under-reporting, including: regular checks on registrations and meaningful enforcement of the rules to prevent under-reporting.
- Clearer guidance on disclosure requirements is needed (depending on what is released) so that there's a greater level of transparency on funding sources of all registrants;
- Publication of the names of lobbyists that have been found to be in breach of the rules.
Key dates of the ETI process
- 9 November 2005
- Communication proposing the launch of the ETI
- 3 May 2006
- Adoption of the Green Paper on the ETI
- May – August 2006
- Public consultation on the Green Paper
- 13 December 2006
- Adoption of revised financial regulation
- 21 March 2007
- Communication on the Follow-up to the Green Paper ’European Transparency Initiative’
- Summer 2007
- Stakeholder consultation on code of conduct for lobbyists
- Spring 2008
- Launch of lobbying transparency register
- Spring 2009
Evaluation of lobbying transparency register
23 June 2011
Launch of the joint European Parliament and European Commission “Transparency Register”
Why lobbying transparency matters
Between 25-30.000 professional lobbyists currently roam the corridors of the EU institutions, a large majority representing business interests. Without rules on transparency and ethics for lobbying, the influence of corporate lobbyists on EU policy-making has largely remained out of public sight. The influence granted to corporate lobbyists in EU decision-making raises serious concerns over the impartiality of EU decision-making and its democratic principle.