The Transparency Register’s code of conduct for lobbyists needs to be strengthened during upcoming review


Madrid/Brussels, 5 June 2013 When lobby groups sign up to the EU’s voluntary lobby register

[1] they agree to a code of conduct for lobbyists. This code however is currently weak and vaguely-worded, according to ALTER EU, a coalition campaigning for greater lobby transparency in the EU, of which Access Info Europe is an active member.

The lack of clarity in the code of conduct, particularly about what constitutes “undue pressure” or “inappropriate behaviour” for lobbyists – alongside the absence of monitoring and enforcement – have resulted in the code of conduct for lobbyists being treated as merely a ‘tick box’ exercise for some registrants. The organisations that make up ALTER-EU believe that the experience of the lobby register’s first two years, particularly the continuing high – and – low profile lobby scandals, demonstrate that the code requires an overhaul in order to become an enforceable, comprehensive and effective ethics code for lobbyists.

logo_alter-euALTER-EU has looked at lessons from the Dalligate tobacco lobby scandal, and asked for input from those experiencing unethical lobbying, namely Members of European Parliament (MEPs), in order to provide input to EU decision-makers on the eve of the two-year review of the EU lobby register – and the accompanying code of conduct for lobbyists.

You can read more about our recommendations in the ALTER-EU briefing on the code of conduct for lobbyists.

Inappropriate lobbying in the Dalligate scandal

The lessons learnt from ‘Dalligate’ [2], have led the organisations that make up ALTER-EU to conclude that inappropriate behaviour should include (but not be limited to) actions or activities that attempt to exercise influence, political gain, or circumvent the rules of the transparency register about client and financial disclosure, or that include employing unregistered lobbyists or other “middlemen” to engage in lobbying activities on their behalf, or that include actions which infringe on the private sphere or personal life of a policy-maker.

MEPs’ experience of undue pressure and inappropriate behaviour

A number of MEPs have told ALTER-EU that they felt they had, on several or more occasions, experienced “undue pressure” from lobbyists trying to influence their views/decisions, or the European Parliament’s decision-making more generally. One MEP in fact lists all the invitations to lobbying events that his office has receives [3]. Click to read some of the examples MEPs gave of undue pressure and inappropriate behaviour.

What do decision-makers think the rules for the lobbyists should be?

ALTER-EU has received several suggestions from MEPs about how the rules around lobby transparency, and particularly the code of conduct for lobbyists, should be strengthened:

– Making the lobby register mandatory – binding and obligatory – with no entrance to EU institutions without registration;

– Sanctions for breaking the rules, including giving false information;

– Ensuring that data provided by lobbyists is complete and up-to-date, and weeding out misleading or incorrect information;

– Explicitly forbidding lobbyists from infringing into MEPs’ private lives;

– Ensuring that exhibitions and meetings in the European Parliament are done only in conjunction with registered lobbyists;

– Making it obligatory for all types of lobbyists to be clear about their funding sources.

Another suggestion that we repeatedly hear from MEPs, and which Access Info and ALTER-EU campaigned for in the 2011 discussions about the new MEP code of conduct, is that of a legislative footprint. The idea is that in order for citizens to understand how the EU decision-making process functions, MEPs must also indicate which lobbyists had a substantial influence on a particular report. Access Info also calls for MEPs to publish their calendars or agendas, to keep a public record of all meetings held with interest representatives and to publish the documents submitted to them by outside parties during ongoing decision-making processes.

You can find the Transparency Register here.

[1] The European Parliament and European Commission’s Joint Transparency Register for Interest Representatives, which came into being in June 2011, and is facing a two-year review starting this month, June 2013
[2] The tobacco lobby scandal surrounding the resignation of former health Commission John Dalli last October
[3] For example, in May 2013, the MEP received 112 invitations to lobby events, and a total of 1427 lobby attempts in only two years, including 315 requests from lobby groups for specific voting behaviour.