We held an open workshop on lobbying yesterday. I think it was a great event.
The meeting room was packed. Someone said that there were some 400 people participating. Well, I don’t know the exact figure, but over 200 did sign in. Everything from NGOs to private companies, MEPs to assistants and civil servants. Even the Vatican was there!
We had a number of experts and professional lobbyists giving their views on how lobbying works in the EU and the US. You can find the list of speakers in yesterday’s blog entry, albeit in Finnish.
I won’t go into all the details of the debate, but I thoght it might be useful to set out some ideas from workshop. I am sure we will produce a report from the event. I will post it in the blog as soon as I can get my hands on it. My 14-page handwritten scribbles would not be of much use to the casual reader.
An interview with Estonian TV.
In the beginning of the workshop I posed six questions relating the whole lobbying package. I will try to give my very preliminary views on those six questions, in light of yesterday’s debate. I want to stress the word ”preliminary” because my role as raporteur is to gather as much info as possible, listen to my colleagues and make a proposal which has a realistic chance to pass the house.
1. Should the lobbyregister voluntary or mandatory? I am open on this one. Yesterday we heard good arguments for and against. I sympathise with a mandatory register, but I am just not sure whether it will work in practice.
2. Should the European Parliament have a common register with the Commission? In the beginning I was sceptical about the administrative feasability of this proposal. Having thought about it long and hard, I do think it is such a bad idea after all. Nevertheless, I would again want to see how we can do it practice.
3. Should there be financial disclosure? Again, in the beginning I was sceptical, but I have certainly warmed up to the idea. I do not think that money should be the only criteria, but I am sure we can come up with something broader and useful.
4. How should we define a lobbyist? I do not have exact wording yet, but I believe in a broad definition of lobbyists. I also believe that ”all lobbyist were created equal”. For me it does not matter whether you represent a trade union or the industry, a company or an NGO, a think-tank or a consultancy. When you come to my office or when you send me information with the intent of influencing my position on a piece of legislation, then you are a lobbyist. And this goes for lawyers and lawfirms as well. If you play ball, you need to stick to the same rules with everyone else.
5. How about scrutiny and punishment for those who violate the code of conduct established in the register? No definite answer on this one yet, but I do feel that we need something more than just ”naming and shaming”. Being kicked off the register is naturally a severe punishment, but perhaps we can look at other possibilities as well.
6. Then there are a few special cases, such as the transparency of intergroups. The 25 registered intergroups in the EP are not a major problem. They are regulated and transparent. But at the same time there are other intergroups which have not been able to get an official status. Perhaps we could have a look at how to make them more official.
I also feel that transparency is a two-way street. If we require transparency from lobbyists, then we should be more transparent ourselves. Yesterday I made a proposal which I called a ”legal footprint”. (A ”legal fingerprint” might actually be a better description of the proposal, as my colleague Richard Corbett pointed out).
I proposed that each piece of legislation should include a footnote with all the different organisations and experts that the raporteur heard or saw in the process of preparing the law. It would be a simple gesture which would make the whole process more transparent. A good legislator listens to everyone and draws his or her own conclusions.
At the same time the raporteur should register all the documents (directly linked to the legislation) which he or she receives from outside sources. The proposal got unanimous support and I am looking forward to hearing what my colleagues in the Constitutional Committee think about it.
All in all I am really excited about this whole lobby-dossier. Lobbying is often seen as something negative. I want change that myth. Lobbying, when done properly, is an essential part of a parliamentary process. The more transparent the system, the better. The clearer the rules, the less room there is for misunderstanding and populistic anti-EU cheap shots.