We take note of the e-mail we received on 12th November from Erik Wesselius and Oliver Hoedeman of Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO).
We are extremely surprised that CEO and the NGOs they've enlisted fail to recognise the intrinsic value of the EULobby Portal as a practical step toward increased transparency, openness and accountability.
We strongly refute the argument that a voluntary system of registration is nothing but a 'semblance of transparency' and 'a common strategy of the PR and lobbying profession'. Such disparaging remarks ignore the fact that EULobby registrants are asked to provide detailed information about their practice. We are extremely surprised that CEO and the NGOs they've enlisted are not even willing to provide themselves basic information about what they do, while at the same time strongly arguing for a system of registration modelled after the 1995 U.S. Lobbying Disclosure Act. It must have escaped the attention of CEO that EULobby provides the full text of the 1995 US Lobbying Disclosure Act as well as the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct in Canada.
The CEO would be well advised to consider the debate that took place in the United Kingdom regarding a Register of Lobbyists. The Leader of the House of Commons argued that such a Register would appear to give the House's seal of approval to the activities of professional lobbyists, who themselves would prove the real beneficiaries rather than, as intended, the House of Commons in achieving additional protection and enhancement of standards of conduct. The Leader of the House of Commons pointed to the problems of definition in adopting a statutory Register and the additional bureaucracy which would be involved if the scope of the Register were widened, and thought it preferable to encourage the development of a voluntary code by the lobbying industry itself. Later on, the Nolan Committee indicated that 'to establish a public register of lobbyists would create the danger of giving the impression that the only way to approach successfully Members or Ministers was by making use of a registered lobbyist and this would set up an undesirable hurdle, real or imagined, in the way of access.' The Nolan Committee commended the efforts of lobbyists to develop their own codes of practice, but rejected the concept of giving them formal status through a statutory register.
CEO makes a reference to the contribution I made to the Convention in which I strongly suggested that the time for transparency had come . In reviewing various models of registration, I effectively indicated that the system used by the Canadian Parliament would probably best fit the EU legislative needs and requirements. It must be acknowledged, however, that the main objective of the Canadian Register was to obtain openness in the lobbying of Ministers and civil servants rather than Members of Parliament. My contribution let it be known was a wake-up call to all organisations and individuals who attempt to influence the European institutions. Of course, this would also include NGOs.
The decision to create the EULobby Portal is based on my firm belief that EU Affairs professionals need to voluntarily disclose information and that citizens have the right to know who is acting with whom, on behalf of whom and over what. We don't need EU legislation to achieve this. We don't need a cumbersome bureaucracy to achieve this. We hold the view that a statutory Register of lobbyists would in all likelihood fail to achieve its purpose, except at the dubious expense of giving advantage to those included in it…and that it would give professional access to a limited number of people. We are not at present convinced that the establishment of a Register of Lobbyists whether by resolution of the Parliament or by statute... on balance, best would serve the purpose of accessibility and openness.
We believe, however, that asking EU Affairs professionals, as well as business and civil society representatives to provide additional information about what they do is the right step toward increased transparency, openness and accountability. Germany has a Register in the Bundestag which makes sense. The Register does not have legal force. The purpose of the Register is to make interest groups clearly visible and collect information for the work of the Bundestag and its committees, and make it available on request. Registration does not entitle a group to special treatment nor to be consulted at parliamentary hearings. The Bundestag and its committees may invite associations or experts who do not appear on the Register to their meetings, when they consider it necessary.
If CEO wanted to give evidence before the Bundestag, CEO would be required to provide the following details: Name and seat of the Association, Composition of the Board of Management and the Board of Directors , Sphere of interests of CEO, Number of members, name of appointed representatives, names of CEO representatives and address of its office at the seat of the Bundestag and of the Federal Government.
Today, the representatives of CEO do not appear in the EP's List of Accredited Lobbyists. It is strange for an organisation that advocates a radical improvement in registration and reporting obligations for lobbyists. 'Charité bien ordonnée commence par soi-même' as they say in French.
Christian D. de Fouloy