Support is growing among EU member states for the Council of Ministers to join a single European Union lobby register, according to the MEP leading the negotiations.
The European Parliament and European Commission reached a deal in November to merge their separate lobbyist listings into a single ‘Transparency Register’.
Diana Wallis, a UK Liberal MEP who has been tasked with developing the register, told the Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee on Tuesday (1 February) that she was optimistic that the listing would eventually involve all three main EU institutions. She said that backing has come from Finland, Sweden and the UK.
“It looks like we may see the Council come on board,” said Wallis. “If we went back a year they weren’t even talking to us, they weren’t even coming to any meetings; now they are discussing it, they are asking for more information, so they are engaging in the process. That has to be progress.”
Wallis added that she was hopeful that the Hungarian presidency of the Council of Ministers would also push for consensus among member states to join the register.
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The Council has so far rejected repeated appeals and invitations by MEPs and Maroš Šefcovic, the European commissioner for inter-institutional affairs and administration. It has maintained that the lobbying of member states takes place in national capitals and has nothing to do with the EU register.
But diplomats are now saying that member states are considering the matter after Commission officials offered clarifications at an expert meeting on Friday (28 January).
A Commission spokesman confirmed that “a number of member states are beginning to see the positive impact” of joining.
Wallis said that many member states had concerns about how their permanent representations in Brussels would be affected and whether they would be forced to disclose information about who they have meetings with. But she offered reassurance that the register’s rules require lobbyists, not MEPs or diplomats, to disclose who they meet. If national ministers involved in negotiations on EU legislation were approached by lobbyists, it would be the lobby group that would be required to record the meeting in the register.
MEPs on the Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, who will have to draft the legislative report to set up the single register agreed to by the Parliament and the Commission, have repeatedly called for the system to be made mandatory.
Wallis said that was the eventual goal, but that current legal restrictions on the Commission side meant it would have to be voluntary for now.
Code of conduct
Under the system, all interest groups, including consultancies, law firms, church networks and think-tanks, involved in influencing the EU’s decision-making process will be expected to register on a public list. Access badges to the Parliament will be given only to those that register and sign up to a code of conduct.
The plan is to launch the single register in June, if it gets final approval by the Parliament and the Commission. The committee is expected to present its legislative draft for a vote in the Parliament in May.