From a good Transparency Register to a better oneRamón Jáuregui
It is the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, in a framework of demands in which the general public want a Europe closer to the people, more transparent and accessible. The Transparency Register is one of those instruments through which legislators can bring the Union closer to the general public and make it participate in democratic control. It emerged six years ago in response to this growing demand for greater identification with the European project. This tool has been set up and in whose database includes the organisations that seek to influence the legislative and policy implementation process of the EU institutions. Registration allows the general public to get to know the interests of the interest groups, who is behind them, and how big a budget they have. In this way, registration makes a transparent control viable, allowing the possibility of monitoring the activities of pressure groups within the framework of their relations with public legislators.
As regards the Transparency Register, now six years after its entry into force, we can say that the balance has been positive. It has made the Union's legislative procedure more accessible to the general public, increased public scrutiny and made more information available on those involved that influence the Union's legislative process. The number of registrations has increased in the last four years, with a slight drop in the fifth. In the last year, the sixth, this trend has been reversed following the announcement of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, when he assured that their civil servants would not hold meetings with organisations that were not on the transparency register. Since then, the registrations have risen by more than 15%. Therefore this result is positive. Currently, more than 90,000 people representing 9,860 organisations are registered in the public register of special interest groups.
There are organisations that do not want to register
However, this number is not enough to justify the more than 25,000 lobbying organisations in Brussels, plus more (approximately 10,000) whose activity is not based in the European capital but often travel elsewhere to maintain contacts. There are still organisations that refuse to register. Some of the most prominent organisations that had not registered until the previous year were Gazprom, Twitter and Air France.
As regards the Transparency Register, now six years after its entry into force, we can say that the balance has been positive
Moreover, among the registered organisations, problems of incomplete or inaccurate information have been found, thus failing to meet the basic transparency requirements that should allow them to gain access to institutions. In addition, in contrast to other countries such as Canada, the United States or other member countries such as Ireland, the European Union still lacks the power to establish sanctions or impose mandatory registration.
However, the end is in sight for some of these weaknesses. In the framework of the implementation of an Inter-institutional agreement, the European Commission, together with the Parliament and the Council are discussing new European legislation which aims to underpin the activity of lobbies in the context of their contacts with European public authorities. Indeed, this Inter-institutional agreement, approved at the end of last year, agrees some changes that will favour the transparency of the registry. First, a clearer definition of stakeholder activities and interactions with public institutions has been established. Second, the application of the registry is extended. In particular, after the adoption of the proposal, it would also cover the Council (remember that only the European Parliament and the Commission are affected so far). The proposal also encourages other EU institutions, bodies and agencies to use the same register. Finally, more powers are given on the ability to investigate unlawful conduct and we can impose sanctions on possible violations of the transparency register and the code of conduct of public civil servants (including us, the MEPs).
In addition to the Inter-institutional agreement, the Parliament with its power of initiative has wanted to go further. In a report by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions, we have been more ambitious. For us socialists, sanctions (for example, banning those who are not registered or who have not done so correctly) are always a priority. For our part, moreover, the legal enforceability is pending. Registration cannot be based on the goodwill of those affected and must be prescriptive. However, despite our insistence, it does not appear that the other two main institutions, the Commission and the Council, are going to let their arm be twisted. We also claim that those companies that have not come to a committee of inquiry from the European Parliament cannot enter the European Parliament and have been required to do so.
Many Members of Parliament publish their agendas
The Giegold report, titled after the name of its speaker, requires that the European Parliament's website publish the meetings of MEPs with special interest groups. In fact, a considerable number of us already do it by publishing the weekly agendas on our websites and our respective meetings with lobbies, in order that our practices can serve as a guide for other members of parliament. This same report requires the European Commission to publish all its meetings with legislative influencers and that registration should be mandatory. We also call for a redefinition of the activity of special interest groups, taking a broader conception of their activity, the clarification by the European Commission of its meetings and the limitation of these meetings exclusively to those registered. The report also calls for the publication by the Council of its meetings with lobbyists, the obligation of senior civil servants of the European Parliament not to meet with these groups if they are not registered, to encourage law firms to publish a list of their Clients, and to exclude experts from organisations that are not registered. Regarding the financial issue, it has been established that declaring financial contributions of the lobbies will be made mandatory and any donation of more than 12,000 Euros should be published immediately.
As legislators, we must prevent an excess of biased and partisan influence
Finally, the report stresses the need for the traditionally more opaque Council to join the fight against corruption and to align itself with Parliament and the Commission in defending the general public's rights to access to information and inclusion in the political future of the Union.
I would like to insist that, despite everything, the transparency register is a good instrument that in the last six years since its inception has obtained good results on a voluntary basis. It is a mechanism which must be improved without, of course, preventing the cooperation of lobbyists. We should not forget that they are an essential element in the EU's legislative process. However, such collaboration should not be unrelated to an improvement in regulation. As legislators, we must prevent an excess of biased and partisan influence. A task that is undoubtedly facilitated by the publication and public scrutiny of these meetings, only possible if we have a record of adequate transparency.