Transparency about lobby register deal urgently needed – publish the agreement!

Huge unclarity remains about what was actually decided last week about the future of the EU's lobby transparency register at the final meeting of the group of MEPs and Commission officials tasked with reviewing the register.

As reported on Friday, press releases by the European Parliament and the Commission contradicted each other on key points and as a result, media reports also diverged on whether there was agreement on a transition to a mandatory register and how this transition would look. On Friday a document with 30 recommendations was published on the Transparency Register website, but this is a vaguely-worded summary of discussions at previous meetings and it is not the actual Inter-Institutional Agreement. Clarity will only come when the text of the draft Inter-Institutional Agreement is released. MEP Rainer Wieland, who chaired the working group, should as soon as possible release the text in order to allow for democratic debate about the outcome of the register review.

However, a European Parliament press spokesperson has indicated to CEO that the document with 30 recommendations is an accurate view of what was agreed. While we are waiting for Wieland to release the draft Inter-Institutional Agreement, let us have a closer look at these 30 points.

If this is indeed the final outcome, the review will have been a lost opportunity. Around one third of the recommendations are steps in the right direction, but the remaining recommendations are either minor technical adjustments, disappointing weak measures or even steps backwards. And with a another lobby register review not due until 2017, it seems that greater lobby transparency in Brussels has been kicked into the long grass.

Firstly on the mandatory register, the text argues that this is only possible on the basis of Article 352 and that it would be “technically difficult to achieve”. The recommendation is that “this question could be assigned to AFCO” (the Parliament's Constitutional Affairs committee) waiting the next foreseen review in 2017. This is completely unclear, except that the working group shifts the responsibility to the Parliament's AFCO committee. The Parliament's press release additionally states that “the working group called for a proposal by the Commission to adapt the EU Treaty”, although as this is not mentioned in the 30 points, it presumably lacks the support of the Commission and would be exceptionally difficult to achieve anyhow. All in all, judging from the text, the review group has not committed to a transition to a mandatory register.

On the crucial issue of how to make registration de facto mandatory through additional measures ('incentives'), the text only encourages that “the institutions give further consideration to incentives available to regulate the institutions' relations with interest groups”. If this is the outcome of the review, then it would be very disappointing because it would mean that the Commission has not explicitly agreed to any specific steps. The Commission was under pressure to commit to restrict meetings with unregistered lobbyists and curb their role in Commission expert / advisory groups, but none of this is in the text.

To conclude, if the 30 recommendations are the final outcome of the review, MEPs should insist on further improvements when it is time for voting in the AFCO committee and in the parliament's plenary in the coming months. At this stage, however, we have reason to believe that the text is not a complete picture of all that was agreed. It is high time for Wieland, Parliament's Vice-President responsible for transparency, to publish the text of the draft Inter-Institutional Agreement.