Court of Auditors warns of inadequate rules for lobbyists at European institutions

The EU transparency register needs to be bolstered, says the European Court of Auditors. The register provides information on who lobbies the Commission, Parliament, and Council, and serves to inform citizens about the potential influence of lobbyists. But it is too easily circumvented, thus reducing transparency and affecting public trust.

When lobbyism lacks transparency, it can result in undue influence, unfair competition, and even corruption. To prevent these issues, the European Commission, Parliament and Council have signed up to a joint transparency register. This is a central entry point for lobbyists who wish to influence the development of EU policies and decision-making. In order to carry out certain activities, lobbyists must register first.

To a large extent, however, the institutions can decide for themselves how to apply the transparency register. For instance, they can decide what lobbying activities require registration and how lobbyists are allowed to interact with its members and staff. At the same time, the enforcement measures that the institutions can take to ensure that lobbyists comply with registration and information requirements fall short. 

The auditors are critical of the fact that lobbyists must only register for appointments with high-level staff, and that only pre-scheduled meetings are reported. Indeed, spontaneous meetings, e-mail conversations and unscheduled phone calls are currently not reported. For meetings with staff below director-general level (this includes most staff), lobbyists are not required to register. 

The Court of Auditors says that while the institutions are taking steps to increase transparency and encourage registration, they lack tools to remove lobbyists from the register for reasons other than administrative ones. Furthermore, checks on lobbyists’ records should be improved, primarily because of the risk that third-party-funded NGOs do not disclose their sources of funding. Lastly, the register’s website has significant drawbacks when it comes to providing sufficient information on key aspects of lobbying activities to allow for public scrutiny, and should be more user-friendly.


Belgian Annemie Turtelboom, member of the European Court of Auditors © BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM

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