European pressure on UK to change lobbying rules

EU lobbying experts have urged the UK to have greater transparency and broader definitions in its lobbying rules.

In contrast to the UK, the EU’s Transparency Register of lobbyists includes in-house lobbyists, policymakers, NGOs, think tanks and professional associations and trade bodies. Companies on the register are also required to comply with a code of conduct.

The UK should have a broad definition of lobbying and “create incentives that are linked to registration and make registration a positive thing”, according to Matti Van Hecke, head of the secretariat at the European Public Affairs Consultancies’ Association.

Speaking at the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s latest evidence session for its inquiry into the 2014 Lobbying Act, he said: “A broad definition is extremely important, and also a definition that defines the activity rather than the organisation or the type of person conducting the activity.

“That gives a non-discriminatory approach and covers all types of lobbying and interest representation.”

EU perspective

Van Hecke explained that, while the EU register is voluntary, it has become “de facto mandatory” because it is easier to operate in Brussels if you are on the register.

Certain decision makers can only meet with registered lobbyists. If you want to be part of an expert group in the European Commission, you have to be on the register; if you want to request an EP badge to access the European Parliament you have to be on the register.

He described how agencies and clients have to disclose their relationships with one another. “Consultancies have to declare their revenues per client, and clients have to declare their costs per consultancy.”

And the EU system uses software to detect “inconsistencies”, such as revenue not in line with the size of the agency, he added.

Maria Rosa Rotondo, president of Public Affairs Community of Europe (PACE), told MPs the EU’s transparency regime is a very good example” to use because it has “a balanced set of rules, both for lobbyists and for public officials.

She added: “We advocate for a broad definition of lobbying that includes not only meetings – which are important – but events, PR work, campaigning and social-media campaigning.” 

A broad definition of lobbying and lobbyists, with a mandatory registry, should cover these kinds of activities, she argued.

Greater transparency

The UK should also consider publishing the agendas of public officials, Rotondo said. “This is a very easy tool to introduce transparency – it’s also very cost-effective. 

She added: “If you want to really move forward and align the regulation in your country with one which is really 21st-century, then you have to define things like undue influence, covert influence, and you may also have to have a look at social media, media transparency, to see who is behind certain campaigning that goes on.

And Vitor Teixeira, senior policy officer at Transparency International EU, told MPs: “Transparency is not just the availability of information; if we just data-dump the information out there, it is not very useful.

“All the information has to be categorised, as it is on the Transparency Register of the European Union, and it has to be available in a way that is user-friendly.”

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