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Da Bruxelles: regole volontarie per il lobbisti

16/05/2006

Le pillole di SpinWatch.

Da www.spinwatch.org:Lobbying: Commission trusts EU lobbyists to self-regulate
EU Observer
The European transparency initiative is welcomed across the board by EU public affairs professionals. But the positive statements cover up deep uneasiness over how far regulation should go and who should be included.Launching his Green Paper on a European Transparency Initiative on 3 May, Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas admitted that no hard regulatory measures were likely to come out on lobbying transparency under his term in office.
"We will start with voluntary measures," Kallas said, adding that compulsory measures would follow "only if it fails" and probably "not until the end period of this Commission" due to the length of the legislative procedure.
In the Green paper, the Commission rules out mandatory registration of lobbyists, saying "a tighter system of self-regulation would appear more appropriate". Charting the "way forward", the paper proposes:
* a voluntary registration system, "run by the Commission, with clear incentives for lobbyists to register". Such incentives would include "automatic alerts of consultations on issues of known interest to the lobbyists"
* a common code of conduct for all lobbyists [&] "developed by the lobbying profession itself, possibly consolidating and improving the existing codes"
* a system of monitoring and sanctions "in case of incorrect registration and/or breach of the code of conduct".
Since it was announced in March 2005, the transparency initiative has stumbled over a series of practical obstacles about how to regulate lobbying. Key issues include:
* Defining what is lobbying: the Green paper defines it as "all activities carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making process of the European institutions".
* Defining who should be considered as a lobbyist: the Green paper defines lobbyists as "persons carrying out such activities, working in a variety of organisations such as public affairs consultancies, law firms, NGOs, think-tanks, corporate lobby units ("in-house representatives") or trade associations.
However, these definitions do not make things much easier as they embrace a very wide variety of activities, persons and professions. Widely thought to be the toughest nut to crack in any form of lobbying (self-)regulation are law firms, which are bound by confidentiality rules forbidding them from disclosing the name of their clients. 
By contrast, some public affairs firms such as Hill & Knowlton have already taken steps and publish a list of clients on their website. Not all in Brussels do the same at present.
Another key issue in the debate about lobbying transparency is money. The Green Paper says lobby groups which seek to influence EU policies "must be clear who they represent, what their mission is and how they are financed". 
But suggestions by NGOs that all of the above groups and professions should disclose full details about funding will certainly prove hard to implement. In fact, the Green Paper does not make it one of its recommendations. Positions:
Public affairs consultants in Brussels insist that high ethical standards on lobbying can only be met provided that "all lobbyists", including "lawyers, accountants, management consultants, NGOs, trade unions, corporate lobbyists, trade associations, think tanks, and professional consultancies" abide by the same transparency rules.
The European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association (EPACA) is stepping up its efforts and it currently setting up an independent supervisory body (Professional Practices Panel) that will be in charge of enforcing disciplinary measures upon members caught transgressing its self-imposed code of conduct. EPACA currently claims to represent 34 member companies, employing over 700 staff and representing "some 70% of the European public affairs consulting market" in Brussels.
These efforts are welcome by the Commission but clearly fall short of what it hopes to achieve. It estimates that around 15,000 lobbyists currently operate in Brussels.
Jeremy Galbraith, from Burson-Marsteller in Brussels, a member of EPACA, says the definition of what actually constitutes lobbying should be refined. Galbraith points out that lobbying in Brussels encompasses a wide variety of activities: media relations, organising events or workshops and other interactions with politicians. The problem, he says, is where to draw the line between activities which constitute lobbying and those which do not. In Washington, the definition is narrower than in the Commission's Green Paper, Galbraith points out.
Asked whether public affairs firms could envisage disclosing their fees, Galbraith says it would be ok "if there can be a definition and a level-playing field," a suggestion that law firms and others would need to do it as well. However, Galbraith says fee disclosure is "not what the Commission is asking for at this stage". On this issue, he recommends adopting a step-by-step approach: "first a common register, then maybe we can start talking about disclosing fees".
The voluntary approach to lobbying regulation is criticised by ALTER-EU, a transparency campaign group, as "a second best option". "Vested interest lobbyists are likely to continue to operate without having to provide information on the financing of their activities," it said. 
Erik Wesselius of the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a leading member of ALTER-EU, said: "An e-mail list announcing upcoming Commission consultations is no credible incentive to ensure comprehensive registration and reporting by EU lobbyists. Those lobbyists who want to stay in the shadow and not reveal their lobbying to the general public will continue to do so under this proposal."
Galbraith seemed to agree. E-mail alerts, he says, are "not a big deal" since most EU institution newsletters and online alerts are already available by simple registration.
 

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