Official complaint made re. inaccuracies in Transparency Register

Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) submitted four complaints to the EU Transparency Register's secretariat, following an article published illustrating that the register is still incomplete and inconsistent. You can read the full analysis of problems in the register, three months after ALTER-EU published its 'Dodgy Data' report, on ALTER-EU's website.

Hey, big spender?

CEO has made an official complaint to the Transparency Register's secretariat that Europabio, a large and influential biotechnology lobby platform, has an unrealistically low financial declaration, indicating that its entry is not in line with the guideline to be complete, up-to-date and not misleading. Europabio lists only two lobbyists, despite having a 17-person office in Brussels. It is unlikely that only two of 17 staff are engaged in activities falling under the scope of the Transparency Register, when these activities are the core part of their mission, according to their website, which says that “EuropaBio’s primary focus is representing biotechnology in the European Union”. Europabio also states that its estimated costs directly related to representing interests to EU institutions in 2010 was less than 50,000 euros, which seems unlikely given that a) their annual turnover in the same year was 1.3 million euros, and b) administrative and staff costs must be included. Some estimates of the average costs of employing a corporate lobbyist in Brussels are up to 100 000 euros per year.

Can't count, don't fly

The register's guidelines clearly state that “Any person benefiting from an accreditation for access to the European Parliament's buildings should be counted as a full 1 person/year in this estimate.” CEO has also submitted a complaint about the Association of European Airlines' entry which lists 1.5 persons engaged in activities falling under the scope of the Transparency Register, but lists six individuals as accredited for access to the European Parliament. A somewhat worrying calculation given the necessity of accurate mathematics for safe aviation.

Law firms, a law unto themselves?

Law firms have proved to be reluctant to embrace transparency, with many remaining unregistered, and of those that have registered, many violating the requirement to disclose their lobby clients. Since ALTER-EU's report, at least two such firms - 'White and Case' and 'Reed Smith LLP' – have been suspended from the Register for breaching this guideline, according the Register's secretariat.

Reed Smith LLP has now been reinstated, having amended their entry to include a client list. However, despite declaring a lobby budget of 10 million euros, they list only one client, bringing in a turnover of less than 50 thousand euros. Even more curiously, Reed Smith LLP lists zero persons as being involved in their ten million euro lobbying practice, and leaves the section on main EU initiatives lobbied on blank. CEO believes that it is staggering that Reed Smith's revised entry, riddled with contradictory information and glaring omissions, was reinstated merely because they listed one client. We have submitted a complaint that Reed Smith's updated entry still violates the guidelines.

White and Case LLP remains suspended, but despite their suspension, the register's list of persons accredited for access to the European Parliament still includes White & Case LLP and their registered lobbyist Kritikos Mihalis. We therefore also contacted the Register to inquire whether their access pass (which is conditional on being in the Transparency Register) has in fact been removed.

CEO also submitted a complaint about Linklaters LLP, which has also failed to declare its clients. According to its entry, “Linklaters LLP does not engage in lobbying related activities but exclusively provides legal advice to its clients”. This appears to be misleading as activities falling under the remit of 'interest representation' include any activity which tries directly or indirectly to influence policy-making. This evidently includes advocacy towards the European institutions, and Linklaters website states that they have “a proven track record of advocacy before the European Commission”. Under 'main EU initiatives covered the year before by activities falling under the scope of the Transparency Register', they note several policy dossiers, including financial regulation MiFID and the Capital Requirements Directive.

Time to make it matter

Unless failing to meet the requirements of the Register and its guidelines has consistent consequences, in practice, the Transparency Register cannot serve its purpose. CEO is concerned by the apparently superficial approach taken by the secretariat in reinstating entries that still violate the guidelines. Moreover, the number of entries that have not been suspended despite clear breaches of the guidelines suggests an even greater problem.

- Weblinks to entries in Transparency Register all accessed on 27/09/12.