Transparency register could be made mandatory for all EU institutions
The European Commission may put forward a proposal in 2015 to make the European Union’s transparency register mandatory for all three European institutions, according to a leaked draft of the Commission’s work programme. This would mean that any organisation wanting to contact officials in the European Parliament, Commission, or the European Council, would have to be on the register.
The current voluntary register only applies to the European Commission and the European Parliament. The Council of Ministers, made up of member state representatives, has refused to participate in the initiative, which began in 2010. Significantly, the draft suggests that the mandatory register should apply to the Council.
However, the Commission’s and Parliament’s legal services have in the past found that the current EU treaties would not allow for a compulsory register. A European Parliament review group, headed by German centre-right MEP Rainer Wieland, suggested in a leaked letter last year that the Commission would need to create a new legal basis for the introduction of a mandatory register in order for it to survive legal scrutiny.
Transparency campaigner ALTER-EU said that fact that the Commission is planning to make this proposal through an inter-institutional agreement, rather than through a legislative proposal, will not actually make the register binding. “An IIA can only impose binding rules on EU institutions and their staff, and not on lobbyists,” the organisation says. “To enhance transparency, it is vital that lobbyists who do not register, who act unscrupulously or who provide inaccurate or misleading information in the register face effective fines or other sanctions. Fines and sanctions require legislation, as is the case in the US lobby register, for example.”
Registrations for the voluntary register have increased in the light of the Commission’s new public disclosure regime that began on 1 December. Commissioners, their cabinet members and directors-general are now obliged to publish on the Commission’s website a record of their meetings with lobbyists. Meetings can only be held with those people or organisations that have signed up to the EU’s transparency register.
There have been 78 new registrations over the past week, compared to about 40 per month at the beginning of the year. New registrations include Cisco Systems, McGraw Hill Financial, and the consultancies SP&L and Global Sustain. A number of former MEPs have recently registered their consulting services, including Chris Davies and Jens-Peter Bonde.
Under the new system, Commissioners and cabinets are meant to publish all details of meetings within two weeks. However, most entries are empty at the moment. By Monday (15 December) all meetings from 1 December will need to be listed.
Greater transparency was one of ten priorities announced by Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the Commission, in a speech to the European Parliament in July. The issue was a major part of his campaign to become president as he intended to address damage to the Commission’s reputation caused by the sacking of one of its members in 2013. John Dalli, the then European commissioner for health, was dismissed as Malta’s commissioner after it was revealed that he had met tobacco lobbyists while his department was working on updated EU tobacco legislation.
However, the scandal – eventually dubbed ‘Dalligate’ – also highlighted the interaction between prominent members of the Commission’s services and tobacco lobbyists, as well as inconsistencies in the way that contact was reported by different departments.