The European Transparency Initiative and ALTER-EU

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) - a coalition of over 200 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms - was born out of the need to provide a cohesive and consolidated approach to campaigning in Europe on curbing the influence of corporations on EU decision-making and formalised as a coalition in July 2005 in response to the “European Transparency Initiative” (ETI) launched under the European Commission Vice President, Siim Kallas, that same year.

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."

The objective of 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.

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”

ALTER-EU is registered in the EU Transparency Register under number: 2694372574-63. ALTER-EU's steering committee members are all registered as well. Although ALTER-EU recommends its membership to register, some are not because they are not active in Brussels.