EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans had presented the proposal of the Commission on reviewing the existing EU Transparency Register as early as September 2016. 18 inactive months have passed since then. However, this week, the three institutions have begun to negotiate the new Register at the political level. The initial assessment of the Commission proposal gives a mixed picture. The negotiation process will show whether the other institutions will also follow these proposals.
The current EU Transparency Register is based on an Interinstitutional Agreement between the Commission and the European Parliament; so far the Council has not yet participated in the Register. This might change in future. This Monday (16 April 2018), representatives of the three EU Institutions met for the first time at a political level to negotiate the future structure of the Transparency Register: EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans negotiates on behalf of the Commission, MEPs Sylvie Guillaume and Danuta Hübner on behalf of the European Parliament and the responsible Bulgarian Minister Monika Panayotova on behalf of the Council.
The participants of this first meeting agreed on the next negotiation steps. The objective is to sign the new Interinstitutional Agreement in December 2018. The intention is for several political and numerous technical negotiation rounds to take place until then under the Bulgarian and Austrian EU Presidency. Also announced were public information events on the progress of the negotiations.
In the meantime, over 11,700 organisations have been listed in the EU Transparency Register. More than 7,200 people hold access cards to the European Parliament. The numerical collectability of the lobbying phenomenon shows that the information situation on lobbying and the problem awareness have increased since the introduction of the Transparency Register. However, in spite of the progress made concerning transparency, lobbying by large corporations, business associations still dominate, and professional consultants working on their behalf, still shape the political agenda in Europa.
The Commission proposal on reviewing the Transparency Register, which now forms the basis for the negotiations between the Institutions, would bring improvements in some areas; but partly also deterioration. In contrast to the clear results of the consultation procedure, the new proposal does still not provide for mandatory registration. A significant deterioration would also be the new, narrower definition of lobbying. Thus, one has to fear that in future only “direct lobbying” (calls/letters/emails/meetings) and not also “indirect lobbying” will be covered by the scope of the Lobby Register.
What has to be regarded as positive is the fact that for the first time the Transparency Register shall also be extended to the Council; however - exactly like the Commission - only to the highest administrative level of the Council as well as to the Ambassadors of the current EU Presidencies. Lobbying with regard to the European Council and the Permanent Representations to the Council shall - according to the new proposal - not fall within the scope of the Lobby Register.
A long-time problem of the Transparency Register is the quality of data (among other disclosure of clients and lobbied dossiers, underreporting of financial data, classification in wrong categories), the lack of a systematic review and the staff shortage of the Register Secretariat. Against this background, in 2015 Transparency International too had made a complaint to the Secretariat, as about half of the then registered organisations had made incorrect entries. Hence, the promise in the Commission proposal regarding the improved control of entries and to tackle the staff shortage of the Register Secretariat must be regarded as an important step; however, what is required is the concrete implementation of these promises.
To kick-off the political negotiations, ALTER-EU has summarised the most important demands for an improved Transparency Register in a letter. LobbyControl too demands the introduction of a mandatory comprehensive EU Lobby Register. The appeal worthy of support can be signed here.