Fact of the Week – The European Commission seeks to broaden lobbying transparency rules

The European Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmernans on 28 September presented new plans to make lobbyists register before meeting with the EU’s top officials. The proposal comes amid a wide-range of high-profile cases stirred public uproar regarding the transparency and falling trust levels in the European institutions. The most widely publicized and controversial has by far been the announcement that former Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso would take an advisory position at US investment bank Goldman Sachs,

“Citizens have the right to know who tries to influence EU law-making,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told a news conference. “We propose a simple rule. No meeting with decision-makers without prior registration,” he added. “Those who don’t play by the rules risk being suspended from meeting with EU institutions or removed from the register altogether.”

Under the proposal, the European Commission, Parliament and Council would have the same rules requiring lobbyists to publicly register their activities. The Commission currently allows its members and top staff to meet only with lobbyists who have publicly disclosed their activities on the EU Transparency Register. The European Parliament restricts access to its buildings to lobbyists who have registered. But the Council, which includes national diplomats as well as officials working on key legislation on behalf of the six-month EU presidency, has no such restrictions. The new Commission proposal would require an agreement among all the institutions to have the same rules. That may be difficult, as national governments in the Council have resisted the idea of a transparency register. The Parliament and Council will now weigh in with amendments to the Commission’s proposal in the coming months.

The Commission’s reforms would also tighten the disclosure rules by improving the accuracy of the register, which currently includes almost 10,000 entries, including requiring more specific information on lobbying spending. It is also recommending the ability to impose sanctions on lobbyists who don’t comply with the rules.