March 25, 2016
I am amazed by the inability of this Juncker Commission to solve problems, big or small. How do we classify the problem of the Transparency Register? A small issue perhaps, but with big consequences in terms of openness, good governance and democracy.
Consultation: a childish questionnaire
For years we have been talking about making this register mandatory (currently optional). Using the absurd argument of a lack of legal basis, the Commission has avoided any reform of this register, even as the imperfections grow: vague in its registration details, no genuine oversight or sanctions.
The Register, as it functions today, is a caricature of what it should be, with everyone declaring only what they think necessary: some declare more in order to appear more important than they are. Others declare less in order to downplay their lobbying activities. And there are some who declare selectively, since anything is permitted.
The Commission has been content to put pressure on lobbyists to join up, viewing the current total – 9,369 – as a demonstration of the register’s success. Pushed to do more, despite its reluctance, the Commission has now launched a public stakeholder consultation. Only by responding to the 7 questions in the first section can you access the 13 questions in the second section.
These 20 questions are infantile – forgive the expression but it is correct. None of the most important issues are being addressed: extending the Register to all the Institutions including the Council, extending it to lawyers, the matter of supervision and even sanctions. Put briefly, it is a waste of time, based on a minimalist and rather simplistic vision.
Lobbyist transparency goes hand-in-hand with institutional transparency
Still, it is promising to see the campaign for an effective register come from the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU (AmCham EU). Taking the initiative in a proactive report, AmCham EU highlights various problems in EU regulation, in particular regarding secondary legislation. These include:
- Lack of sufficient ‘lead-in’ periods to allow for key delegated and implementing acts to be adopted in good time before Regulations or Directives begin applying to industry. Companies can suffer considerable regulatory and commercial uncertainty in the event of delays to key secondary legislation;
- Echoing the European Ombudsman’s recent findings, AmCham EU wants to see more transparency in the workings of Commission Expert Groups (EG), i.e. more visibility for sub-groups and greater detail in the minutes of EG meetings, including members’ deliberations;
- On impact assessments, the Commission should ensure more consultation of stakeholders in deciding whether delegated and implementing acts should undergo a full assessment of their economic, social and environmental impacts.
This approach, combined with a demand for transparency not only from interest groups but from the Institutions as well, is essential. What is the point in lobbyists trying to be whiter than white when the Commission, Council and Parliament refuse to get their own house in order?
AmCham EU also wants to see a Transparency Register applicable to all three Institutions, based on a principle of ‘one-stop shop’ and involving an advisory council of stakeholders in its conception. This last point is vital, and I am personally in favour of going further. For this new Register, we have to take inspiration from the US Disclosure Act adopted after the Abramoff scandal: in other words, genuine transparency available online and open to citizens.
But for this to happen, our profession has to mobilise and, in partnership with the Institutions, draw up a Charter of Transparency and Access to Sources. Creating a professional order of lobbyists is more important than ever, as is the need to make registration compulsory and nominate democratically elected (and therefore legitimate) representatives – which, today, is not the case.
The road is clear, so what are we waiting for?