On 26th November 2019, mail arrived for Council President-designate Charles Michel: a joint letter of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) addressed the lobbying by corporations to influence the Council. In this letter, the AK as co-signatory demands actual lobbying transparency, which, among other, had already been recommended by the European Ombudsman and has actually been envisioned by the guidelines of the Juncker- Commission.
The letter is the result of the failed negotiations with the Council on the latter’s participation in the EU Transparency Register. Both European Parliament and European Commission are already part of the Register: contacts made by Commission officials and MEPs with lobbyists are already made public. In contrast, lobbying involving the European Council is still taking place behind closed doors. There is hardly any information on who takes influence on whom regarding which issues. From the AK’s point of view, it is clear that the Council must become more transparent.
In the AK’s opinion, the letter of the members of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) does not include any significant demands. The basic rule must be that any meetings of the Council President and his cabinet staff must be made public. This ensures that the civil society knows who is able to influence them. Apart from that the above should be obliged only to meet those lobbyists who are registered in the already existing EU Transparency Register. This makes it possible to see, which interests are officially represented by the respective groups. The AK also believes that it is urgently required that the Council President and his Cabinet find the right balance regarding the number of meetings with different interest groups, such as NGOs, trade unions, scientists and corporations as provided for by the guidelines of the Juncker Commission. It is important that all sides are given the opportunity to represent their perspective and not only corporations. The AK understands these three points to be the self-evident basis of transparent work and therefore demands that these are implemented as soon as possible.
From the AK’s point of view, in particular the creation of a cross-institutional Transparency Register is of utmost importance. The signatory organisations demand that the Council supports the creation of a binding EU Transparency Register, which shall apply to all EU Institutions. As a Study by the AK shows, lobbying behind closed doors has always been and still is a main issue in Brussels. The current case in respect of the platform economy shows who the losers of such intransparency are: The Europeans to whose detriment new laws are then adopted. The AK Study ”Über-influential” clearly shows how corporations spend a lot of money to influence European policies to enable them to pay their employees less and to avoid social security contributions. Corporate lobbying can only be curtailed by clear regulations and transparency. Hence the AK demands that the European Council should not waste any time to become more transparent.
But not only EU institutions are subject to massive corporate influence: Heads of State and Government are also influenced by lobbying on a daily basis. Here, the AK regards transparency as even more problematic than already in respect of the Cabinet of the European Council. Added to this is the fact, that some countries, such as Hungary, Poland and Czechia are grossly violating the rule of law, thereby bringing democratic principles into question. In the AK’s opinion, these dangerous developments must be actively counteracted. Without any rule of law inspection, the influence of corporations will become even stronger, whilst the democratic control by the civil society will come massively under pressure. That is why the letter of the members of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) is urging the new Council President Charles Michel also to focus on strengthening the rule of law. Only a transparent Europe that follows the rule of law will be able to meet the challenges of our times with good solutions.