New row flares over EU's register for lobbyists

07-05-2013
The body representing the public affairs industry has made a robust defence of the EU's transparency register code of conduct. The Brussels-based Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP) has challenged fresh calls for changes to the code, including demands that it be made compulsory for firms to register.
The demand was made by ALTER-EU, a campaign group, and comes ahead of an upcoming evaluation of the register this summer by the commission and parliament. ALTER-EU is arguing for a stronger code that compels lobbyists to register. The register was set up by the commission and parliament in 2011. An estimated 3000 registrations have been made so far by lobbyists as well as NGOs and think tanks. At present, though, ALTER-EU says there is no incentive for firms to register because it remains a voluntary scheme. ALTER-EU has also been angered by the apparent failure of EU commissioner Maroš Šefcovic to invite MEPs to a review meeting on the code. The commissioner is inviting stakeholders for a meeting on the review of the lobby register. But ALTER-EU says it is "remarkable that German EPP member Rainer Wieland is not invited to the meeting nor any other representative of parliament". Wieland is vice-president for transparency in parliament, a role he took over from former deputy Diane Wallis, and is responsible for negotiations with the commission about the joint transparency register.

Paul de Clerck, of the ALTER EU steering group, said, "In earlier meetings, it was always said that Šefcovic and Wieland would organise this meeting together. It seems especially interesting in the light of parliament's positions in favour of a mandatory register, while Šefcovic is defending the voluntary register." Susanna Di Feliciantonio, president of SEAP, said that in demanding a mandatory register, ALTER-EU was "missing the point". She said, "There is a difference between the objectives of the EU register – that of transparency, and the objectives of a self-regulatory code of conduct. "SEAP's code is about lobbyists coming together and saying we will act ethically. Transparency is but one part of that ethical behaviour. "The SEAP code of ethical conduct goes far beyond the basic transparency of the EU register's code. "A side by side comparison shows the SEAP code mirrors the EU code's nine articles, and adds a further seven." Philip Sheppard, vice-president of SEAP, said, "SEAP does not believe it is the role of the EU to control the behaviour of lobbyists. This is a role for lobbyists themselves. "This is self-regulation. This is our job. "Organisations which are serious about business ethics demonstrate it by joining SEAP," he added. (bron: theparliament.com)

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