a response, part I / ETI

As you know the European Commission held a public consultation on its European Transparency Initiative (ETI), which has been open until the end of August. Although I wasn't interested in participating in the consultation myself, I worked together with a friend of mine to draft a response to the questions tabled in the green paper.
We answered only the four questions in section II of the green paper and included some preliminary remarks before doing so:

Response to the “European Transparency Initiative” as presented by the European Commission on May 3, 2006

Response to Section II “Transparency and Interest Representation (Lobbying)”

Preliminary remarks
Question 1

. 2

Preliminary remarks

In the introduction to its Green Paper the European Commission stresses its commitment to the participation of civil society organisations and stakeholders in the policy process on the European level.

With regard to the openness as one guiding principle it states that:

At the same time, the Commission has stressed the principle that “with better involvement comes greater responsibility”. Relations between the Commission and interest representa­tives must be open to outside scrutiny. Therefore it was considered timely to review the framework for activities of interest representatives and seek views on the need for new ini­tiatives.

We fully support the notion of responsibility which comes along with participation. As signatories of this position paper we strongly believe in the value of transparency.

Despite the fact that most actors involved in the current debates increasingly emphasise the importance of interest representation for the political process, most citizens perceive it as backroom procedures illegitimately altering policies for the benefit of powerful spe­cial interests. To address this discrepancy between self-assessment and public perception, the Commission’s effort to regulate its relationship with interest groups can be a helpful exercise and ought to be supported.

As signatories of this position paper we agree upon the following basic views with regard to the subject of the Green Paper:

1. We strongly believe in the legitimacy of lobbying and its impossible dissociation from the democratic process. Trying to influence the content of EU public policies or attempting to gain advantages from an established EU programme is a fundamental right based upon two basic EU freedoms: freedom of speech and freedom of association.

2. We strongly believe that for the sake of transparency ALL lobbying organisations (lobbying- public affairs consultants, management consultants and accountants, lawyers, NGOs, think tanks, corporate and trade associations) trying to influence EU policy makers and the content of EU public policies must be treated on an equal footing.

3. We accept that people have a right to know who is talking to policy makers and which organisations and individuals consider themselves stakeholders in a certain policy do­main.

4. We would support the European Commission in an effort to extend the principles and rules of conduct under which its own staff works with other participants in the policy formulation and decision-making processes, notably those for the purpose of the Green Paper defined lobbyists.

Question 1

Do you agree that efforts should be made to bring greater transparency to lobbying?

Yes. A higher level of transparency will be beneficial for both the political process and the profession. The European Transparency Initiative points toward the right direction for it is the complexity and distance between Brussels and European citizens which lies at the heart of alienation and unfounded anxiety towards the EU.

Therefore while one has to applaud the Commission for emphasising the already achieved transparency of governance, existing measures need to be fine-tuned in order to draw the curtain for the often misinterpreted process of lobbying the European institutions.