The changes to the lobby register announced by Commission today  will fix some of the weaknesses in the initial design of the register, but fundamental flaws remain. This means that EU citizens are largely left in the dark about the activities of the more than 15,000 Brussels lobbyists, according to the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) who called on the European Parliament to secure the necessary overhaul of the register.
ALTER-EU welcomed the Commission’s clarification of the definition of lobbying, and the removal of loopholes that allowed large lobby organisations to hide their annual lobbying costs or turnover, making it impossible to assess the relative size of large lobby firms’ client contracts. But ALTER-EU criticized the new rules on financial reporting which it said create new loopholes, and added that the overall result of the review could even be less rather than more transparency on the size of lobby firms’ client contracts. 
Erik Wesselius (Corporate Europe Observatory), speaking for ALTER-EU, said: “It’s disappointing that the Commission refuses to fix the register and leaves so many loopholes open. It means that for the time being we’re stuck with a register that captures only a fraction of all Brussels-based lobbies and with information that is often unreliable.”
The Commission failed to address several serious shortcomings in the register. The guidelines and criteria for financial disclosure remain insufficient and names of lobbyists will still not be included in the register; the Commission has not required reluctant lobbyists to face public scrutiny and it does not intend to check or verify registrations.  As a result, the register is cluttered with an increasing number of organisations that have little to do with EU lobbying.  The review also doesn’t address the problem of outdated information in the register, eg. lobby firms’ clients. 
The Commission has recognised that think-tanks and law firms are boycotting the register, but the steps proposed in the review will not change this. ALTER-EU is calling on the European Parliament and the next EU Commission to make the registration mandatory for all lobbyists.
Analysis by ALTER-EU shows that less than one third of Brussels-based lobbies have registered so far.  Lobby firms like Alber & Geiger, Business Bridge Europe, CLAN, DLA Piper, EUTOP, Grayling, companies like British Airways, E.ON, Heineken, Monsanto, Nokia and sectoral groups like the food industry lobby CIAA, pesticides lobby CropLife or cement industry lobby CEMbureau are still absent from the register 16 months after its launch.
The Commission and the Parliament have agreed to move towards a joint register. In May 2008, the Parliament approved a resolution calling for a mandatory register, with detailed financial disclosure and names of lobbyists disclosed.
Paul de Clerck (Friends of the Earth Europe), also speaking for Alter-EU, added: “It is now up to the newly elected MEPs to take the lead and ensure that the EU will put in place a lobby register that will deliver genuine transparency to the public.”
An Inter-institutional Working Group of the European Commission and the European Parliament will next meet on 12 November to discuss the register.
Notes to the editor:
2: The level of financial transparency on client contracts varies according to size of lobby firms, with bigger firms providing lower less precise information.
3: For a detailed analysis of the register, please refer to “The Commission’s Lobby Register One Year On: Success or Failure?”, ALTER-EU, June 2009.
4: Examples range from the Bundesverband Deutscher Detektive (Federal Association of German Detectives), with estimated lobbying costs in 2008 of 0 € to the Schutzgemeinschaft Niederrheinische Gänse-Eier e.V. (Society for the Protection of Lower Rhinish Geese Eggs) with lobbying expenditures of 1 € in 2008 or the Irish Drivers Education Association, with 0 € lobbying expenses in 2008.
5: Many lobby firms provide outdated information on their clients. A quick glance at the register shows that a lot of information in the register is seriously outdated, for example the client lists of APCO Worldwide (2007), Burson-Marsteller (2007), Edelman (2007-2008), G Plus Ltd (2007) and Interel Cabinet Stewart (2007).
6: “How successful is the Commission’s lobby register? Less than one-third of Brussels lobby organisations have registered”, ALTER-EU fact sheet, compiled by Erik Wesselius, 28 October 2009
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) is a coalition of over 160 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms calling for: EU lobbying disclosure legislation; improved code of conduct for European Commission officials; the European Commission to terminate cases of privileged access and undue influence granted to corporate lobbyists. The call for “Ending corporate privileges and secrecy around lobbying in the European Union”, the founding statement of the Alliance for Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) and a list of signatories are available on www.alter-eu.org
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Paul de Clerck
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