**UPDATED with EPHA response** The long awaited Green Paper on a European Transparency Initiative has been adopted in May 2006.
The Green Paper aims to strengthen etchics rules for EU policy-makers and the estimated 15,000 lobbyists, NGOs and other pressure groups who seek to influence them in Brussels.
The European Commission adopted the Green Paper on a European Transparency Initiative on 3 May 2006. The European Transparency Initiative aims to strengthen etchics rules for EU policy-makers and the estimated 15,000 lobbyists, NGOs and other pressure groups who seek to influence them in Brussels.
The publication of the ’Green Paper on a European Transparency’ officially kick-started the public debate on lobbying, on the introduction of legal obligations for Member States to publish the information about the beneficiaries of funds under shared management, as well as on the Commission’s consultation practices.
EPHA has been active in this debate through its membership of the Civil Society Contact Group (CSCG).
It all began with a speech held at Nottingham University on 3 March 2005, Administrative Affairs and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas launched the idea of a transparency initiative concentrating on three key areas:
Increasing the financial accountability of EU funding
Strengthening personal integrity and independence of EU institutions
Imposing stricter controls on lobbying
The Transparency Initiative seeks to increase the openness and accessibility of EU institutions, raise awareness on EU budget spending and make the EU generally more accountable to the public.
Crucially, the Green Paper on Transparency rules out mandatory registration of lobbyists, saying "a tighter system of self-regulation would appear more appropriate".
The ’soft’ measures proposed include:
a voluntary registration system, "run by the Commission, with clear incentives for lobbyists to register". Such incentives would include "automatic alerts of consultations on issues of known interest to the lobbyists"
a common code of conduct for all lobbyists [...] "developed by the lobbying profession itself, possibly consolidating and improving the existing codes"
a system of monitoring and sanctions "in case of incorrect registration and/or breach of the code of conduct".
While the Green Paper is a positive step forward, the question is now - does it go far enough?
So far no consensus has emerged on some of the most controversial issues linked to interest representation, in particular: is voluntary registration sufficient? can self-regulation really lead to a major change?
Responding to the Green Paper, the Civil Society Contact Group (CSCG) - of which EPHA is a member - published a joint contribution to the transparency initiative debate on January 10th, calling for better publicity and accountability regarding EU funding, enhanced ethical rules for EU institutions and more transparent lobbying.
The key issues for NGOs in the Green Paper are:
Transparency and interest representation
Minimum standards for consultation
Dispersal of EU funds
CSCG intends to create a Code of Conduct for European (social) NGOs. The Code will be drafted by each organisation itself, since no "one size fits all". EPHA members are stongly encouraged to do so. EPHA is working on its Code at present.
CSCG is also woking on the EESC opinion on the representativeness of European civil society organisations in civil dialogue.
The Commission plans to go ahead with a voluntary register for EU lobbyists. This decision comes about despite the many voices, including EPHA, calling for a mandatory registration with full financial disclosure.
The current proposal is for voluntary registration in a public online database of EU interest groups overseen by the European Ombudsman. According to Commissioner Kallas, if the voluntary registration does not produce the right results in terms of public opinion then the EU will consider seriously mandatory registration.
To read more arguments on mandatory registration, see EPHA’s article EP Hearing on European Transparency Initiative - September 2006.