ECAS blog

After the heated debate and consultations on the European Transparency Initiative (ETI) we are now in the phase of consultations on its prominent element – the Code of Conduct for interest representatives (consultations close on 15/02/2008). The draft code proposed by the Commission seems fairly minimalist as it quotes very vast principles of “openness, transparency, honesty and integrity” that shall be binding for those (only!) who choose to register as lobbyists. There can be doubts whether it will bring more transparency to interest representation towards the EU Institutions.

The other provisions in the Commission’s draft mention that “citizens have the possibility to lodge a complaint about a suspected breech of the rules set out in the Code”. Interesting, but let’s think about practicalities: You need to be an extremely expert observer of the EU to detect and make a serious complaint about the breech of rules such as “openness and honesty” by the interest representatives.

Secondly, citizens should and can blow the whistle but then the institutional watch-dog, why not the European Ombudsman, should perform this role on a more substantial basis.

Finally, the proposed Code suspiciously lacks the hard measures such as disclosure of the financial background of lobbyists, rigorous monitoring and, if necessary, sanctions.

Coincidentally, at the same time that this consultation is going on, ECAS launches the “ECAS tips for would-be European lobbyists”. This guide (part of a bigger project) is intended to help NGOs to make their voice heard in Brussels and advocate their interests hence, ultimately, citizens’ interest. While we are very happy to present to our members and partners a solid guide on lobbying, we also discover that our guide is a tall order to follow…

Which civil society organisation will be able to afford several full-time policy officers to:
1. Be a skilful lobbyist
2. Adjust their strategy to what can be achieved realistically through the EU
3. Create a European association or network to operate in relation to the EU Institutions and across the Union
4. Participate in the consultative process
5. Support lobbying by evidence across the Union
6. Get in early and stay in
7. Make more use of EU complaints procedures to back-up your cause
8. Form alliances, build coalitions
9. Make a noise to be seen and heard
10. Find the resources to lobby effectively
11. Develop a game plan
12. Evaluate their lobbying activities?

Frankly, only the business associations and the biggest civil society platforms can allow it, which clearly puts the others in a disadvantaged position. This imbalance of influence was already highlighted in the Green Book on the European Transparency Initiative (p. 6). Apparently not much will be done/can be done on that.

ECAS guide concludes that “lobbying should not become a monopolising channel of influence towards the EU Institutions. It should always be weighed up against consultation processes, impact assessment, opinion polls, citizens’ views and complaints and other sources of evidence and research. Lobbyists are predatory and it is up to public authorities to keep them tamed.”

Will this fairly “relaxed” Code of Conduct presented by the Commission tame the lobbyists?

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  1. I think it is ridiculous that the only people (or should I say companies) who get to really try and make a difference are those with the money and time to do so. The EU was created by philosophers who thought strongly about what they wanted to acheive, now it seams to be based on funding and the institutions would like to keep it that way.

  2. All of the practicalities of this make it a small improvement. The ETI is spineless and toothless, and needs to be further developed to avoid it being a complete waste of deliberation and effort.

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