Banks sign up to lobbying register
The credibility of the European Union’s transparency register has received a boost in recent days as lobbyists and major companies respond to stricter transparency rules introduced by the European Commission.
Big-name financial institutions including HSBC Holdings, Goldman Sachs, the London Stock Exchange, the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Banco Popular Español have all added their names to the register in the past week, along with dozens of small lobbying firms and industry groups. Since last Wednesday, 92 entities have joined the register, taking the total to 7,196 (up from 6,055 at the start of the year). In 2014, new registrations have averaged around 100 a month.
The European Commission was quick to claim credit for boosting interest in the register, which is jointly run by the Commission and the European Parliament. (The Council of Ministers does not participate.) A Commission official said the surge in activity was directly linked to the announcement last month by Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president, that commissioners, their staff and the Commission’s departmental heads would meet only those lobbyists that had signed up to the register.
European Voice has been told cabinets are being meticulous in adhering to the new rules, sending out warnings to lobbyists that they must be on the register.
A spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs said its decision to join the register was not related to Juncker’s announcement but had been considered for some time. She said that the trigger had been the appointment of a representative in Brussels. The Goldman Sachs entry registers four people accredited for access to the Parliament and estimates the spending on lobbying in 2013 at less than €50,000. HSBC has registered with five people and estimates its costs directly related to representing interests to EU institutions in 2013 at €400,000-€450,000. RBS has registered eight people with cost estimated at €200,000-€250,000 in 2013.
One Brussels banking industry source confirmed that banks now understood the register to be an obligatory step in gaining access to the Commission. “It is only a matter of time before MEPs start requiring this as well,” he said.
Under the Commission’s new rules, the meetings are logged on the commissioners’ websites. For example, a member of staff of Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president for energy union, met Deutsche Bank on Tuesday (2 December) to discuss energy and transport.
Jakob von Weizsäcker, a German centre-left MEP working on banking issues, says he was not surprised that banks are signing up to the register, given that lawmakers are considering a proposal to break up Europe’s largest banks.
The European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, who investigates complaints of maladministration in EU institutions, welcomed the register’s beefed-up role, but said the disclosure of meetings on commissioners’ websites should be strengthened. “We know the name of the commissioner or cabinet member who is in the meeting, but not the name of the person they are meeting,” O’Reilly said. “For example, we know that a member of Šefčovič’s staff met someone from Deutsche Bank, but the name of that person can be published only with their permission.”
With organisations on the register receiving regular updates on proposed legislation, and having their responses to legislative consultations accorded particular status, some interest groups say they agreed to add their names purely to stay in the loop and not because they plan to lobby.
Gennaro Scognamiglio, from the Italian fishing and aquaculture co-operative UNCI Pesca, said his organisation is using the register as a tool to avoid vexatious legal action. “When it comes to public tenders or contracts, this is a very litigious sector,” Scognamiglio said. “The register is good because it creates a paper trail and shows that we are open in our dealings.”