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
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
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