The EU must make its lobby transparency register TTIP-proof!

In recent months it has become increasingly clear that industry lobbies from both sides of the Atlantic are lobbying on an unprecedented scale to influence the EU-US trade talks (known as TTIP). CEO research published in September showed that the Commission had had at least 119 meetings with industry as part of the preparations of the negotiations. There's growing, and fully justified, concern about the risks which the TTIP talks pose to environmental and health protection in Europe. The Guardian quoted Stuart Eizenstat, co-chair of the Transatlantic Business Council, who was asked by German television if companies whose products had been banned by regulators would be able to sue governments as a result of TTIP. Eizenstat responded "Yes". He went on: "If a suit like that was brought and was successful, it would mean that the country banning the product would have to pay compensation to the industry involved or let the product in." When asked if that would apply to the European ban on chicken carcasses washed with chlorine, permitted in the US but not in Europe, Eizenstat said: "That's one example where it might."

Lobby consultancies are gearing up to work for companies to exploit the TTIP talks to get rid of regulations they dislike. "The TTIP", one Brussels-based lobby consultancy writes, "offers the perfect vehicle to overcome the overwhelming opposition to GMOs in the EU". A New York Times article exposed how US law firms are increasing their presence in Brussels as a result of the EU-US trade talks. US law firms such as Covington & Burling, Hogan Lovells and Baker Botts see the negotiations as “a potential business bonanza” that will create “a huge wave of lucrative lobbying and legal work”, the New York Times reported. Just like most EU-based law firms, these firms refuse to join the EU's voluntary Transparency Register for lobbyists.

In the light of these clear risks, it is crucial that the EU's lobby transparency register helps create full visibility around industry lobbying of TTIP talks. That is not the case at the moment because the register is voluntary and hundreds of companies and lobby groups simply do not register. And even if they do sign up, the disclosure requirements are so limited that it is of limited transparency value. ALTER-EU's June 2013 report "Rescue the Register!" includes a sobering analysis of just how little the EU's current lobby register has to offer in terms of transparency around TTIP lobbying (see below). Fortunately there is a review of the register happening, with crucial decisions to be made at a meeting in Strasbourg tomorrow. Only a mandatory register which requires comprehensive and reliable information about lobbying will shed light on corporate lobby pressure on the TTIP talks. The EU must make its lobby transparency register TTIP-proof!

Who’s lobbying on the new EU-US trade deal?

For citizens, journalists or watchdogs it is virtually impossible to identify, from the current register, who is lobbying on what. For instance, one may wish to know who is lobbying on the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement that will have a strong impact on laws on both sides of the Altantic and which covers a wide range of issues. This is because TTIP aims to create the a free trade area by removing regulatory barriers which might include labour, social, environmental and consumer protection standards. It could also empower large companies to challenge regulations both at home and abroad if they affect their profits, through investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms.

The EU’s transparency register cannot however shed much light on who is lobbying on TTIP. A comparison with the lobby register in the United States highlights some of the flaws in the voluntary approach of the EU register. Some of the companies that have declared the EU-US trade deal as one of the issues that they are lobbying on in the US (where it is legally mandatory to declare this) are also in the EU’s register ie.  IT firms IBM and Google, car manufactures like Toyota, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), as well as the Chamber of Commerce of the USA and companies like Novo Nordisk, Merck & Co, Alcatel-Lucent, Biogen and Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals. These companies are very likely to be lobbying on the TTIP trade negotiations in the EU as well, but they all fail to mention TTIP in their entries to the EU’s register. For example, in the EU’s register IBM mentions “trade issues”, which is too general to be really helpful, whereas GlaxoSmithKline fails to list any specific policy areas or dossiers. In contrast, on the other side of the Atlantic, this failure to declare the dossier lobbied on could lead to a fine.

The US Lobbying Disclosure Act states that each registration shall contain: “the general issue areas in which the registrant expects to engage in lobbying activities on behalf of the client; and to the extent practicable, specific issues that have (as of the date of the registration) already been.

The EU register also suffers from the problem of outdated information. Even if registrants give specific and complete answers, they are only required to declare the dossiers they lobbied on in the previous year. This means that if a company started lobbying on TTIP at the start of 2013, citizens would not know until 2014. And quite possibly not until the end of 2014, as registrants are only required to update their entries once a year, at no specified date.