According to its website, the Commission recognizes that lobbying is a legitimate, even essential part of democratic decision making, whether it is carried out by public affairs consultancies, private companies, NGOs, law firms, think tanks or trade associations. The Commission needs and appreciates the input it gets from such organizations, but in return asks their cooperation in showing the public that the relationship is based on high standards of probity and transparency.
As part of a wider effort to make EU decision-making more transparent, the Commission launched a register in 2008 that is meant to list all interest representatives – a catch-all term for groups seeking to influence policy. The first annual review of the voluntary scheme found that the number of registered organizations and individuals has reached 2,100 and is rising. The report notes that some supporters of efforts to regulate lobbyists want registration to be mandatory. But it says that is not warranted given the high rate of participation so far. Commissioner Siim Kallas says the register has changed the commission’s corporate culture. EU officials now think twice about meeting with unregistered interest representatives. And some EU divisions have dropped unregistered organizations from their database or taken similar steps.
But not everyone is happy with the register. Many law firms and think tanks have boycotted it. Lawyers worry it violates their rules on client confidentiality, while think tanks say their activities do not count as lobbying. The Commission hopes to resolve these issues by clarifying the language in the register and creating a separate category for think tanks. It will also revise the rules for financial disclosure to improve transparency.
More information is available here.