Plans for the joint “Transparency Register” for are moving forward as the European Parliament adopts two reports in its May Plenary. The vote is a first step to ensuring greater transparency among lobbyists in the EU.
The European Parliament adopts a report on the “Transparency Register.”at a plenary session of the EU assembly in Strasbourg, facilitating the launch of the registry in June. MEPs called on the Council of Ministers to join this "transparency register" and welcomed the current indications that the Council intends to do so.
MEPs add that all lobbyists should be made to register. At present, more than 1,700 organisations are accredited as interest groups in the Parliament and around 3,900 are registered with the Commission. As this is not feasible at the moment, the current debates are to be listed in a "legislative footprint" annex to parliamentary reports. However, an amendment tabled by the Greens political group calling for the register to be made mandatory as part of any future review was adopted. Although not mandatory as the EP had originally wanted the text highlights that there will be "a strong incentive for registration since it will render it impossible for anyone to procure a badge giving access to Parliament without first registering".
The report argues that a joint register will increase transparency, as citizens will find all the information on people talking to the EU institutions in one place. Another bonus, is that one register should also make the process easier for lobbyists to register, instead of filling out registration forms for the different institutions. Another way that the process will be facilitated is through the changing of names. The "lobby" register would be renamed the "transparency" register to make it easier for non-commercial organisations, such as civil society and think-tanks to sign up.
The new joint register will also provide additional information, such as the number of individuals involved in all activities relating to the register, and the level of EU resources received by the registrant. It will also clarify precisely which activities are covered by the register, and set out procedures for handling complaints and sanctions.
One of the improvements is that the scope of the register "covers all activities […] carried out with the objective of directly or indirectly influencing the formulation or implementation of policy and the decision-making processes of the EU institutions, irrespective of the channel or medium of communication used," accordinng to the adopted report. This means the scope of activities will be broadened to include include outsourcing, media, contracts with professional intermediaries, think-tanks, platforms, forums, campaigns and grassroots initiatives, the document states. Activities that will not be covered including sending letters and contacting MEPs, officials or other staff of the EU institutions, circulating information material or position papers, and organising social events or conferences.
One thing that civil society has been calling for that is included in the new register is financial disclosure. Professional consultancies, in-house lobbyists, trade and porfessional associations, law firms and self-employed consultants will have to disclose how much money is spent on activities falling within the scope of the register in brackets of 50,000 euros.
Other stakeholders, such as NGOs, think tanks, research and academic institutions, religious organisations and local, regional and municipal authorities will have to provide their overall budget and a breakdown of their main sources of funding. All registrants must disclose the amount and source of funding received from the EU institutions in the year closest to the date of registration.
Response from civil society
Transparency International welcomed the vote and urged the Council to joing the registry, as well as called for a quick implementation of the legislation. Transparency International considers the new ’Transparency Register’ as another step in the right direction and encourages the Parliament to take further steps, including making the lobby register mandory and inclusing all EU Institutions and agencies.
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), recognised the improvements and argued that further steps are needed to ensure an effective and reliable register. The ALTER-EU highlighted that the voluntary registration allowed too many lobby firms to avoid scrutiny and called for the Parliament to make the register mandatory in the future. Other areas for improvement are that lobbyists should have to provide more information on finances, as well as more comprehensive on their lobbying activities. Another step that could be taken to improve transparency is introducing checks to the information provided by registrants.
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