The new lobbying rules: the good, the bad and the unclear… so far


On 15 December 2020, after six years of negotiations, the Parliament, the Council and the Commission reached a final political agreement to lobbying transparency. The official Inter-Institutional agreement (IIA) has now been published and ALTER-EU analyzed it in depth. 

Overall, we welcome the positive steps as they correspond to many of the demands it has called for in the past years. Yet, we believe that there are still relevant shortcomings and areas that need further clarification or regulation from each of the institutions. This week, the Parliament approved the IIA, but left out key amendments proposed by political groups and supported by civil society organizations, including ALTER-EU.

Here is what we consider the positives, the negatives and the unknown.

The positives:

  • The application of the Transparency Register to the three institutions and the Permanent Representative holding the EU Presidency. 
  • The  stronger focus of activities (lobbying) and less on who performs them (lobbyists), as well as the inclusion of indirect lobbying activities. 
  • The inclusion of non-EU countries’ lobbying activities, when they are carried out by lobbying firms or other intermediaries without diplomatic status.
  • Although there are not significant changes in the Code of Conduct was expanded , there is a new clause, which states that when in a client-intermediary relationship, registrants will have to ensure the other is registered and that the information relating to this contract is added to the other's entry. This is very positive, because, for the first time, clients will be responsible for the behaviour of those they hire and vice-versa. 
  • The new demands on funding information:

a) FTE now starts at 10% (it used to be 25% ).

b) Brackets for lobby budgets are now smaller.

c) Those who hire intermediaries, such as lobby consultancies and law firms, will have to disclose all of them and their cost. If one of these contracts does not correspond to the last closed fiscal year, then they should be added as a note.

The coalition is, nevertheless, disappointed that: 

  • The Transparency Register did not become legally mandatory. It remains an incentives-based system, but the incentives are not listed in the IIA, as:
  • The Institutions could not come to an agreement on the incentives and agreed to draft their own. In this respect, ALTER-EU recommends these incentives to be drafted and implemented  in a coordinated manner between the institutions. 
  • There arere no measures addressing lobbying meetings with staff.
  • There are no obligations for registered lobbyists to declare the hiring of former members or staff of EU institutions.
  • The positive introduction of responsibility in the client-intermediary in the Code of Conduct (see above) is contradicted by the next clause , which introduces a loophole saying that when some covered activities are outsourced to an organisation that is not registered, then at least the registrant must ensure that they follow ethical standards equivalent to its own. 
  • The complaints process has been explained in much more detail but there are still concerns over the lack of alerts or time periods for complaint filling. For instance, for violations of the Code of Conduct a one year limit for filling complaints is too restrictive. 

Finally, there are aspects that require further clarification, namely:

  • The exemption of “spontaneous meetings” maybe prone to abuse, so it needs clear definition and delimitations. 
  • The Management Board will made up by the Secretary Generals of the three Institutions, but whether it will have sufficient resources is not clarified in the IIA.
  • There is a new concept in the registration categories, that of a registrant that does not represent commercial interests, which will have to disclose funding information. It is not clear what exactly will be counted as an organisation that does not represent commercial interests.

The coalition will not fail to closely monitor lobbying transparency in the EU, particularly the implementation of the new rules. Thus, we have requested a meeting with the Secretariat of the Transparency Register to clarify the aspects that we considered insufficiently clear. We will also closely monitor and advocate for clear and transparency regulations within each institution. 

ALTER-EU will also continue to campaign for stronger ethics rules in European institutions and against the excessive corporate influence in EU legislative and policy making.