New and Improved? Why the EU Lobby Register still fails to deliver

Publication date: 
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Executive summary / policy recommendations: 

This new research, published by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), shows how the voluntary approach to EU lobby transparency regulation fails to provide citizens with an accurate picture of the lobby scene in Brussels. Some of the main groups that are actively lobbying the EU institutions have still not registered in the EU's Transparency Register. These include:

  • Financial lobbyists such as Standard & Poors, City of London Corporation and Credit Suisse;
  • Lobby consultancies, such as EUTOP Brussels;
  • Law firms such as Covington & Burling and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer;
  • Major corporations such as Electrabel, Anglo American and General Motors.

Meanwhile, too many of the register's entries are unreliable: lobby firms and law firms fail to disclose clients - which is a clear breach of the rules for the register - or they mask their identities behind meaningless acronyms. In addition lobby spending and lobbyist numbers are often under-reported, and there are far too many implausible entries. For example:

•         Google and Novartis list more European Parliament entry passes than the total number of lobbyists they say they employ, which cannot be correct according to the register rules.

•         Goldman Sachs and Honeywell under-report their lobby expenditures as the amounts they declare are less than the amounts they have paid to lobby consultancies.

•         Meanwhile, some entries are simply absurd: BearingPoint, a professional consultancy, states that its lobby turnover is a staggering €552,795,000! [Addendum 28-01-2015: Since this report was published, BearingPoint has contacted us to clarify that the figure declared in its register entry was not, in fact, its lobbying expenses, but rather its annual turnover. Whilst this is an easy mistake to make, this example shows that there is a lack of proactive checking by the Transparency Register Secretariat that the entries are accurate and credible.]

The European Parliament, alongside transparency campaigners including ALTER-EU, have long demanded a tougher approach to EU lobby regulation. It is now time for the European Commission to take up this challenge. The revamped register currently being launched, will not significantly improve the accuracy of the lobby data (as outlined in this report) and will not enable any interested person to really know who is lobbying whom, and how much is being spent on lobbying in Brussels  - surely the key tests of any proper transparency register. Despite numerous commitments to improve the poor quality of information in the register, too little has happened and even the most obvious absurd entries have not been corrected.

The Juncker Commission is now proposing to introduce a so-called mandatory lobby register via an inter-institutional agreement. This is very misleading, as such an inter-institutional agreement would not be binding on lobbyists and thus not properly mandatory.

What is needed is a proposal for EU legislation to introduce a legally-binding EU lobby register, which would ensure that lobbyists are obliged to be fully open and honest about all their lobbying activities. This would allow the register secretariat to investigate incorrect and misleading entries, and ensure that effective sanctions can be applied in cases of breaches of the register rules. That is the only way to ensure that we know who is influencing the decisions coming out of Brussels, which affect EU citizens' daily lives.

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