ANALYSIS: european lobbying; Laying down new law for the Euro lobbyists

Measures adopted by the European Parliament will force lobbyists to adhere to a new a code of conduct, establish a register and will restrict access to those carrying passes

Measures adopted by the European Parliament will force lobbyists to

adhere to a new a code of conduct, establish a register and will

restrict access to those carrying passes



It is perhaps an indication of the lack of interest in the workings of

the European Parliament that the measures adopted in Strasbourg last

week prohibiting MEPs from accepting gifts and compelling parliamentary

lobbyists to sign a register attracted relatively little attention from

the UK media.



Less predictable however, was the silence of European lobbyists on a

debate which has turned the spotlight on their activities - quite

literally - in the corridors of European Union decision making.



The measures adopted by the European Parliament on 17 July in fact stem

from two reports drafted separately by Glyn Ford, Labour MEP for Greater

Manchester East, and French Liberal member Jean-Thomas Nordmann.



Under Nordmann’s proposals all 626 MEPs will have to declare

professional activities and any financial, material or staff support

given by third parties. In addition, members will be barred from

accepting gifts and other benefits such as free trips from outside

interests. Declarations will be entered in an annual register, which is

to be made available for public inspection in Strasbourg, Brussels and

Luxembourg and at the parliament’s information offices in EU member

states.



More relevant for lobbyists are the new rules sponsored by Ford. These

will oblige lobbyists to carry a one year pass giving access to

parliament buildings and to sign a public register. Registered lobbyists

will also have to sign an as yet unwritten code of conduct. After

failing in January to win support for plans to make lobbyists declare

any gifts or trips for MEPs worth more than 1,000 ecus (pounds 833), the

final version of Ford’s report avoids this question altogether.



As they stand, the regulations not only affect established political

consultancies but also in-house public affairs staff, trade association

members and representatives from the likes of Greenpeace and Amnesty

International.



While admitting that abuse of the parliamentary system by lobbyists is

relatively rare, Ford argues that regulation is necessary to maintain

public confidence in the decision making process.



‘The main reason for doing this is that the parliament has gained in

influence and now has the power to make legislation on a variety of

matters,’ he says.



‘We need to make sure that it is open and transparent and that members

take decisions without undue influence. The parliament should not be a

supermarket where those with the biggest pocket can buy what they like.

Members have a responsibility to engage in dialogue with lobbyists,

whoever they are. But dialogue must not turn into ownership.’



Lobbyists in general have welcomed the changes, having wisely kept a low

profile throughout the two year debate on both reports. Michel Deurinck,

head of Fleishman-Hillard’s Brussels branch, thinks that the new rules

will clarify lobby procedure.



‘I think it will make life a lot easier and it will create a level

playing field for all of us,’ he says. ‘Established companies like

Fleishman-Hillard know what the procedures are but for individuals

campaigning on a particular interest it is hard to enter the system. Now

you can register, get a pass and enter the parliament.’



Peter Verhille, managing director, public affairs for Entente

International Communications, has some reservations but believes the

regulations will help legitimise the role of lobbyists at the

parliament. ‘We have always been against the idea of a closed shop, so

we hope people will still be able to make approaches to MEPs and that

this won’t be used to keep people out. But the register and pass makes

lobbying a de facto part of the political process.’



Whether lobbyists will be so welcoming of the code of conduct remains to

be seen. Ford is keen that the code, which will probably be discussed in

the parliament in December, contains hard and fast procedural rules. He

and other MEPs are unlikely to be content with just a worthy statement

of good intentions, similar to the voluntary code of conduct drafted by

19 consultancies in 1994.



‘I would rather it were less exultory than the usual expressions of good

practice,’ says Ford. ‘For example, I would like to see a stop to cold

calling where a lobbyist enters the building to see an MEP but knocks on

the doors of all the other members along the way. I’m in favour of

seeing practical rules.’



For Deurinck, now is the time for lobbyists to get involved in the

debate. ‘Ironically we have done very little lobbying on this issue and

we haven’t really discussed it among ourselves. As a group we should get

together and decide what we want and what is ethical and communicate

that to the parliament.’



As well as the code of conduct, two more draft reports are due to be

debated by the Strasbourg parliament after its summer recess ends in

September. One concerns the role of parliamentary assistants, while the

other will examine the conduct of cross party groups of MEPs. But for

lobbyists there are unlikely to be further complications, unless a major

flare up occurs.



‘When we have had the three other reports approved all we will have to

do is tweak the system if it is abused,’ says Ford. ‘Now we have a set

of rules that we can accept, we need to let the system work for a

while.’



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in