10.000 registered lobbyists and counting
Since October 5th 2016, 10.000 organizations are registered in the European Commission- and the European Parliament’s (EP) Transparency Register. Of these 6.280 lobbyists have a personal EP accreditation. Since 2014, the Commission has restricted Commissioners and Cabinet Members by solely allowing them to meet with registered lobbyists. In its proposal of September 28th, the Commission has called upon the EP and the Council to follow suit and make the registry mandatory for all lobbyists who are trying to influence policy-making in Brussels. Will this proposal actually cause for all lobbyists to become registered?
In contemporary Brussels, a lobbyist that isn’t registered can still practice his profession. Although he may not have the right to a permanent access pass to the EP premises, he can still meet up with an MEP without further complications. Without being registered, he cannot make appointments with Cabinet Members, Directors-General and individual Commissionairs. Yet for many lobbyists this is not a major drawback. Due to the mainly technical nature of files, most lobby talks take place at a lower level, with commission officials and their Heads of Unit. As long as the lobbyist remains at this level, he does not have to register. The Council – and thus the Permanent Representations – currently have no rules regarding contact with lobbyists. Hence, even without registration, the lobbyist has a free hand to exert influence here.
Timmermans’ new proposals certainly do not make it any easier to lobby without registration. As a consequence of this proposal, lobbyists who wish to meet with MEP’s or host an ‘event’ in the EP will be required to register. At a Council level, the proposal aims to make registration compulsory for lobbyists who wish to be in touch with the ambassador of the EU Presidency and his second, as well as with the ambassador of the upcoming presidency, the Secretary-General and the Directors-General. However, the proposal makes no mention of any type of registration for meetings with staff of the Permanent Representations.
It is in the line of expectations that, if the proposal is adopted unmodified, more lobbyists will register due to the extended requirements set by the EP. A lobbyist that cannot speak with MEP’s on EP premises loses credibility in the eyes of both the politicians he is trying to influence, as well with his clients. Furthermore, one day the lobbyist will feel the urge to speak with Commissioners or Cabinet Members in order to learn about the ins and outs at the political level. When this occurs, he will be forced to register. Practice shows that lobbyists who do not register fall between two stools. Lower level Commissioners can check whether a lobbyist is registered or not and can hence decide if they wish to proceed lobby talks. Therefore, a registered lobbyist has much more chance getting meeting at the Commission.
Moreover, the proposal solely addresses those meetings, which take place within the official buildings of the EP, the European Commission and the Council. There is no clause preventing the unregistered lobbyist to meet up with Commission officials or MEP’s outside of these premises. It is not a coincidence that the European Quartier is packed with coffee bars…. .
ICODA European Affairs has been registered in the Transparancy Register since 2012.