Azara Blog: EU lobbyists under scrutiny

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Date published: 2005/05/30

The Guardian says:

The European commission has been accused of watering down plans to impose greater control over the activities of business lobbyists amid allegations that they have used their financial muscle and influence among legislators to secure pro-business changes to EU laws.

The Brussels "lobbycracy", thought to number 15,000 people representing 2,600 interest groups, is said to wield inordinate and unaccountable influence over the three institutions at the heart of the EU's legislative process: the commission, council of ministers and the parliament. The issue of their power has been heightened by recent disclosures that a new directive on money-laundering has been significantly softened in the European parliament by MEPs close to the financial services industry, including one who chairs a hedge fund and another who is an executive at a bank that is being investigated for money-laundering.
In March Siim Kallas, the commissioner for administration, audit and anti-fraud, proposed a "European transparency initiative" that could enforce a mandatory register of lobbyists. He admitted that current voluntary registers "do not provide much information on the specific interests represented or how it is financed".

He added: "Self-imposed codes of conduct have few signatories and have so far lacked serious sanctions. Lobbyists can have considerable influence on legislation ... But their transparency is too deficient in comparison to the impact of their activities." His remarks, at Nottingham Business School, raised expectations that he could opt, in a promised white paper this spring, for the full-scale, comprehensive register of lobby interests conducted in the US, notably in Congress, and Canada.

But the 25-member commission has watered down his plans, agreeing instead to set up a "study group" on whether registration is desirable or feasible - amid considerable scepticism inside the body about its purpose or effectiveness.

A green paper at most may be published later this year. The turnaround prompted 80 NGOs to launch a campaign, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (Alter-EU), demanding mandatory disclosure rules to enable democratic scrutiny of the role of lobbyists in EU policymaking.

Erik Wesselius, of the Amsterdam-based Corporate Europe Observatory, said last night: "What Mr Kallas now seems to have in mind is just a code of conduct or a simple register. If that's the case it would be very disappointing and completely insufficient, especially as a mandatory system works marvellously in the US and Canada."

Who is he kidding? The US is one of the most corrupt political systems in the world, in spite of these allegedly marvellous lobbyist registers. Of course the EU ought to have a more transparent system, because it is also open to corruption. But the NGOs should also be registered (they are just as unaccountable as businesses), and in particular MEPs should disclose their NGO as well as their business interests. At least in the US everybody knows that the Washington elite are totally corrupt, in the EU nobody knows what is going on. But a register will not by itself make the system less corrupt.

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