By Kenneth Haar
In the near future, we might see a mandatory register in Denmark. But there are obstacles and pitfalls
The introduction of a lobbying transparency register in the Danish Parliament is an issue that has been raised on many occasions for years. In view of a growing lobbying sector, and an increase in the significance of corporate lobbying, several parties are outspoken on the need for transparency, but have so far been limited by an unfavourable balance of power in parliament. But with last year’s parliamentary elections and a change of majority, there seems to be an opportunity to make real advances. This was clear in late May when the leadership of the parliament with representatives from the five biggest parties, decided to support a register. It starts as a voluntary scheme to test the pros and cons of different approaches, but is likely to become legally binding later.
More specifically, the leadership has asked the administration of parliament to provide parliamentarians with two options; either the MP can write a general description on which organisations and lobbyists they often consult on particular pieces of legislation, or he can join a more ambitious scheme whereby the MP is supposed to register all meetings with pressure groups, including lobbyists. All information is to be available to the public via the parliaments website.
The details only be decided over the summer, but one of the active supporters of a register, Benny Engelbrecht (MP, Socialdemocrat) told Corporate Europe Observatory that he expects it to be similar to a scheme he used during a test he and an MP from leftwing Red Green Alliance conducted recently, and which helped push the chairmanship. From early February till late April the two registered every meeting with lobbyists they had, and all participants at the meetings accepted transparency, except for two per cent. According to the two MPs the small group of people who asked not to be registered, were in the category of ‘whistleblowers’ and would have suffered an immediate personal loss had they been registered, Benny Engelbrecht asserts. This is an experience that has made the two consider if exceptions should be made in a future register.
Due to the voluntary nature of the upcoming scheme, there is a third option for MPs when parliament sets up its register: they can do nothing, stay out of the scheme and keep their meetings a secret. And Benny Engelbrecht expects quite a few from the right to do so. He points out that a full third of Danish MPs have chosen not to reveal side jobs or economic interests in an existing voluntary register, and takes this as clear proof of a lack of will if not resistance to transparency in some quarters of the Danish right
The test period is expected to be about a year, and at this time the leadership of parliament will evaluate the scheme and decide what steps to take. The chairmanship tends to work via consensus, and there is a risk that it will decide not to take further action. Should that happen, however, then parties thtat have a majority in the parliament have flagged support for making lobby transparency a legal obligation. The likely model will be one based on registration of meetings and participants at meetings, similar to the one currently used by the British Conservatives in the European Parliament.
While such a model would be a major step forward, it would also include loopholes and flaws. For instance it would not make it mandatory for lobbyists to put all cards on the table, including revealing the sums spent on lobbying. The local Danish lobbying industry is clearly working to keep these matters off the table. But since the majority in parliament seems to have a genuine interest in effective registration, there will be room for improvement when it’s crunch time next year.