EU lobby register falls short of transparency demands

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It was hailed as a victory this week when negotiators from the European Parliament, Commission and the Council found compromise on establishing a joint mandatory lobby register — but the definition of “mandatory” remains to be seen.

The provisional agreement — which must still be approved by the respective institutions and notably includes the Council for the first time — sets out to make it compulsory for lobbyists to be registered in the EU’s Transparency Register in order to carry out certain activities like meeting with top officials.

The only problem is that there is nothing explicitly mandatory in the compromise text, seen by POLITICO and confirmed by others familiar with the talks.

Instead, it gives each institution the license to individually interpret what it means, “and to define the activities that they decide to make conditional upon registration in the register,” the compromise dated December 7 reads. Now, each institution must outline its view in a forthcoming joint political statement.

The document describes an effort to create a “a common transparency culture,” but the battle for such an agreement (on-going since 2016) and its ultimate lack of teeth, emphasizes the difficulty in bridging gaps in Brussels — even on something as virtuous as transparency.

“During the last years there has been good progress, but at this point in time we are paying a very heavy price of no movement for the symbolic joining of the Council,” said Daniel Freund, German MEP and former EU transparency advocate.

Despite not lifting the lid on lobbying in the way that transparency campaigners had hoped, the compromise does include improvements to the way influence in Brussels is monitored. The compromise improves upon the structure and resources needed to finance and maintain the Transparency Register — crucial for keeping its data accurate and up to date.

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