Europe defers decision on lobbyist register

The question of whether lobbyists in Brussels should be forced to register will be left to the next European Commission, it was announ­ced on Wednesday.

Fewer than one in three of the estimated 2,600 Brussels lobby firms have registered under a voluntary scheme, a figure the Commission described as “a good basis on which to build further”.

The launch of the register last year was hailed by the Commission as a move closer to US-style lobby disclosure, with details of how much companies were paying intermediaries to gain the attention of EU officials.

But its success has been in doubt from the outset, when the quality and quantity of information submitted about lobbying efforts fell short of expectations.

Transparency groups have pushed for the register to be compulsory and to incl­ude more information on lobbyists and more precise detail on their budgets.

The Commission has now agreed to tweak financial disclosures submitted to the registry, and will seek to establish the number of lobbyists on each account.

More than 2,000 groups have signed up to the register since June last year, but many have no real sway on policymaking. Many of the most influential lobbyists have not joined the scheme.

In an annual review of the scheme, Siim Kallas, vice-president of the Commission in charge of administrative affairs, highlighted the problems with think-tanks and law firms, two groups that have shunned the register. Law firms, whose Brussels offices often provide identical services to lobbying outfits, have claimed that registering clients’ interests would be in breach of confidentiality agreements, an argument the Commission dismissed.

Think-tanks have sought to avoid being painted with the same brush as paid-for lobbyists. A new category was to be created for them to “underline their distinct character”, a Commission communication said.

Asked whether a compulsory register was required, Mr Kallas, who is in his last few months of office, said it was a matter for the next Commission.

“We will see how this develops. This option is not excluded,” he said.

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