Food for thought on second generation transparency register
Lobby groups of all shapes and sizes met with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič on 5 June for the latest in a series of discussions concerning the future of the transparency register run jointly by the European Commission and the European Parliament.
A review of the register is due to begin soon, but preliminary meetings at both the technical and political level have already provided an opportunity for both sides to share their views on how to improve transparency in the EU policy-making process.
The meeting with V-P Šefčovič was a chance for representatives from the legal profession, public affairs, public relations, local and regional government, civil society, industry associations and NGOs to reflect on the first two years of the joint register, and to suggest changes for the future.
A number of themes emerged from the discussion that are likely to dominate the official review (which will start once the European Parliament has agreed on the composition of its working group on the issue).
The long-debated issue of whether the register should be voluntary or mandatory continues to divide stakeholders; some argue that mandatory registration is the only way to ensure proper transparency, while others question whether it would be legally possible or indeed prompt many firms to deregister amid fears of tighter restrictions.
There were also repeated calls from stakeholders for Council to join the register (and for Member States thinking of introducing national lobby registers to follow the EU model where possible to avoid red tape), and for organisations which do register to be rewarded for doing so (for example by limiting access to EU officials or entry to buildings only to organisations on the register).
This latter message was endorsed by V-P Šefčovič: "There should be a real benefit for ethical and transparent behaviour by organisations engaged in the European policy-making process," he said, adding that while he recognised that EU officials certainly had a role to play in ensuring the success of the register, they also had legal obligations as a public body to answer questions and respond to requests for information – an indication of the complexity surrounding the wider issue of lobbying and transparency.
Further stakeholder meetings are planned throughout the review process, which will also draw on the results of a public consultation held last year, a report prepared by the register's Joint Secretariat and academic work in the field.