Back in February 2006 a friend of mine and I wrote a letter to a number leading actors in the Brussels lobbying circus. As you can see in the following, we tried to come up with an innovative approach to issues discussed in course of the preparation of Siim Kallas' "European Transparency Initiative
" consultation (which is open
now, until Aug. 31).
Proposal for a non-profit non-governmental transparency organisation for Europe(06.02.2006)
In recent months we’ve witnessed a growing effort on part of the Commission to address the problem of vanishing trust in the European institutions by European citizens. Triggered by the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in France and the Netherlands a widespread uncertainty about the reasons is being matched with different attempts to improve the overall situation without forestalling a debate over the future institutional structure of the EU. Among the most prominent efforts are the Commission's Plan D, the "White Paper on a European Communication Policy" and it's European Transparency Initiative.
While knowledge and interest in the European integration is nowadays a rather scarce resource among citizens, it seems at least questionable how debate and dialogue – as laudable the idea is – could improve the citizens’ trust in the EU. Especially communication strategies and PR efforts by the Commission will probably raise the suspicion of citizens as being subjected to a concerted whitewash operation from politicians and bureaucrats in the "space station" Brussels.
Commissioner Kallas' European Transparency Initiative on the other hand 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 toward the EU. Therefore one has to applaud Commissioner Kallas for his courageous attempt to emphasise the already achieved transparency of governance and draw the curtain for the often misinterpreted process of lobbying the European institutions.
Despite the fact that all actors involved unceasingly 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 Commissions effort to regulate its relationship with interest groups ought to be supported. But to expect the Commission to be able to solve this important problem borders on wishful thinking. How should a governmental institution regulate the access to itself and building up the citizens trust? How would the citizens be enabled to know who represents what interests to whom if each institution has its own regulations for it? And most importantly, how can the actors involved with representing interests raise the public perception of their business by being subjected to governmental regulations?
As valuable as the current discussions among stakeholder are - and will be once the ETI green paper has been published in mid March - now is the time to go one step further. It is likely that the Commission eventually will come to terms with a suitable solution, but will a compromise achieve the goal? Whatever the compromises will look like, there is a clear need for something lasting and firmly based within the European civil society: an impartial independent non-profit organisation committed to enhance transparency and democracy in the European Union.
We therefore urge every citizen committed to legitimacy of interest representation toward political intuitions and the transparency of the political process to join our effort to establish the European Foundation for Transparency and Democracy (EFTD). And we call upon the stakeholders to support the EFTD in its endeavour to
• support the European integration process by raising awareness for its uniqueness and complexity;
• serve the European citizens by advancing the knowledge about governance structures and processes on the European level;
• establish a civil society Foundation from citizens for citizens, independent from the EU-Institutions;
• build a permanent body to address issues of transparency in the EU in an impartial independent manner for the public to know.
The EFTD’s activities will be underwritten by donations, which will be up to public scrutiny. Initially the foundation will engage in two activities: that is establishing a European Council for Transparency (ECT) and building a web portal dedicated to its cause.
The ECT will be a publicly elected council of high-level Experts in European Affairs dedicated to improve transparency and the dialogue between organisations, institutions and EU-citizens. Consisting off scientists, representatives of European level associations, NGOs and the European civil society, the ECT is meant to encompass a well-balanced group of EU stakeholders, but neither serving MEPs nor active civil servants of EU Institutions.
The web portal Eulobby.net will be re-launched as a multi-lingual portal serving as a gateway for anyone who seeks information about lobbying in the European Union initially pursuing a triple-play approach: directory – register – information portal. It will serve as premier source of information on EU-level interest mediation by scientists, practitioners and stakeholders, all of which will be subjected to an open system of peer-review via a forum application.
The eulobby.net directory will contain a structured overview and short abstracts for the large amount of web resources of information concerning the process of interest mediation in the EU, both from within and outside the EU institutions. Its register will list all institutions, groups, firms and individuals who are engaged in the legitimate process of representing special interests at the EU-level.