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EU lobbying under spotlight - 28/10/2009

Lobbyists at the EU parliament © Reporters

Report: Register of interest groups has changed corporate climate.

As part of a wider effort to make EU decision-making more transparent, the commission launched a register in 2008 that is meant to list all interest representatives – a catch-all term for groups seeking to influence policy.

The first annual review of the voluntary scheme found that the number of registered organisations and individuals has reached 2 100 and is rising. Encouragingly, most registrants are organisations, not individuals.

The report notes that some supporters of efforts to regulate lobbyists want registration to be mandatory. But it says that is not warranted given the high rate of participation so far.

In the 1990s many regulatory functions were gradually transferred from individual EU countries to the EU institutions. A flood of lobbyists came with them. By 2000, an estimated 2 600 "interest groups" had set up shop in Brussels.

Commissioner Siim Kallas says the register has changed the commission’s corporate culture. EU officials now think twice about meeting with unregistered interest representatives. And some EU divisions have dropped unregistered organisations from their database or taken similar steps.

But not everyone is happy with the register. Many law firms and think tanks have boycotted it. Lawyers worry it violates their rules on client confidentiality, while think tanks say their activities do not count as lobbying. The commission hopes to resolve these issues by clarifying the language in the register and creating a separate category for think tanks. It will also revise the rules for financial disclosure to improve transparency.

Registrants must indicate how much they spend on their efforts and promise to abide by a code of conduct governing their dealings with commission staff. So far just 10 complaints have been filed, with only one resulting in punitive action – a temporary suspension from the register.

The commission now plans to concentrate on setting up a joint register with parliament. The two institutions have already launched a common web-page for accessing their respective registers.

View the register of interest representatives

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