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EU Targets NGOs for Transparency and Accountability in Lobbying

NGOWatch Analysis

May 1, 2006

By Bjoern Seibert

Within the coming days, the European Commission will publish the long-awaited Green Paper for the European Transparency Initiative. The initiative, spearheaded by Siim Kallas, vice president of the European Commission, aims to increase the accountability and transparency of the European Union's (EU) institutions and lobbyists in Brussels, including corporate representatives, professional public affairs consultants, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Green Paper should launch a debate to lead to a final document, and after close consultation with lobbyists, may include binding regulation by the European Commission (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2/14/06).

The effort should be seen against the background of increasing importance of lobbying in Brussels, as well as the fact that today almost 70 percent of the national legislation of the member countries is coined by the European Commission (Die Welt, 3/11/05). Estimates suggest more than 15,000 lobbyists are working in Brussels (The Guardian, 5/30/05), generating between 60 to 90 million euros of revenue annually (EurActiv, 10/27/03). As the lobbying industry has grown, so have calls for its regulation. In response, Brussels-based consultants drew up a voluntary code of conduct aimed at cleaning up the industry's grubby image (Washington Times, 3/8/05). However, in a much-noted speech last year, Kallas said these self-imposed codes did not go far enough, given their impact on legislation. In an interview with EurActiv, Kallas said that if public affairs officials fail to establish a common code of conduct or common principles, the commission would go ahead with binding regulation (EurActiv, 11/7/05).

Kallas did not spare NGOs from his criticism, decrying the fact that over 2 billion euros per year are channeled through them, with little attention paid to how the funds are spent (Washington Times, 3/8/05). Some NGOs, according to Kallas, receive funding from the European Commission, despite the fact that their main task is described as "lobbying the Commission", leading to the paradox that "the Commission is paying lobbies, in order to be lobbied" (EU press release, 3/3/05). Therefore, the European Transparency Initiative would seek to increase the transparency of NGOs interacting with the EU.

In the meantime, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation, a coalition of eighty civil society groups, has welcomed the transparency initiative. At the same time, some NGOs, such as Friends of the Earth Europe - whose largest donor is the EU - claim that "the attention on NGOs is simply a distraction from the much more pressing issue of corporate accountability" (EurActiv, 10/27/03).