The Sapin II law on economic transparency was voted by the French National Assembly on Tuesday 8 November 2016. The law contains certain steps forward regarding the regulation of lobbying: It provides for the establishment of a mandatory register for those representing interests before legislative bodies and the government; the High Authority for public transparency has evaluation and sanction powers in the event that lobbyists break the law. Breaking the rules is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros.
But the law is missing several elements, and far from being sufficient, the laws failings almost outshine its positives.
Firstly the definition of interest representative poses a problem. In the text of the law, professional employers organisations will not be considered as lobbies, while associations defending human rights associations will be. This terminological difficulty creates a major flaw in lobby regulation, as some employer organisations, who are often listened to during the elaboration of public policy, outside of the meetings dedicated to social dialogue, will be able to convey their positions in complete opacity.
Furthermore, the transparency requirements of the register make it clear that they are very limited. For example, it is not required that lobbyists publish their positions or the arguments the used towards decision-makers or the interventions made which influence the drafting of rules. Additionally, the proposed register only covers the past activities of lobbyists (those of the preceding year), and not those in progress, which does not allow citizens or civil society as a whole to react in time. Finally, the origins of the finances of lobby groups do not form part of the register’s transparency requirements, which poses a large transparency problem.
On another note, the Sapin II bill, under Title II, transfers the responsibility of defining the rules relating to the regulation and conduct of parliamentarians to the offices of the two chambers, the National Assembly and the Senate, (linking with the Compliance officer put in place in 2011). This is a problem in several regards:
- There is an obvious conflict of interest in that parliamentarians define the rules which will be applied to them, and that it falls to the National Assembly, and not to an independent entity such as the HATVP, to adjudicate on situations of compliance failures on the part of the parliamentarians themselves;
The process of defining these rules is opaque, as there is no indicative calendar or overall political guidance.
Particularly, the rules should provide precise and restrictive elements regarding the functioning of the parliamentary clubs: interest groups which are external to the Parliament and public relations firms should not be authorised to create or drive them.
It is also worth noting that a fine of just 15,000€ is a ridiculous amount if the aim is to force lobbying firms whose financial figures are in the hundreds of thousands of euros, and even millions, to respect the law.
For citizens to be able to know the arguments and information sent by lobbies to their representatives and other decision-makers, and for the influence circles to come out of the shadows, it is imperative that citizens have access to this information, know which dossiers have been the object of third-party interventions, the budgets at their disposal, which decision-makers they meet and to say what. However the Sapin II law, as voted, still does not allow for real transparency in the activities of interest groups.
In addition to these limitations, nothing guarantees that the Sapin II law will lead to the implementation of the few steps forward that it seeks to introduce. Effectively, the application of the law requires relevant implementing decrees, for which the drafting process will take place after the May 2017 presidential elections. The political uncertainty allows for the prediction that the vote will not lead to implementation, and that the Sapin II law will remain just words on a page.
The need for lobbying regulation is therefore far from being resolved in France, which is why we must keep paying attention to what happens to Sapin II so that the meagre improvements that it represents are not widdled down to nothing. It is also necessary so that the debate continues in order that the system of public decision-making works in favour of the public interest, and not just in favour of industrial and financial lobbies.
See also our report on the influence of lobbying by the agricultural industry in TAFTA-CETA
You can also read the original article in French here: http://aitec.reseau-ipam.org/spip.php?article1590