ETI update

I just attended a talk with a Cabinet Member of Commissioner Kallas who informed an interested audience about the ETI. As news, it was understood that the COM currently negotiates with the EP to broaden the scope of the register to cover lobbyists working with both EU institutions.

Interestingly, he summed the initiative up by stressing that it addresses transparency in three regards: (1) in terms of the identity of interest representatives; (2) as means to ensure balanced access to policy makers (or rather as defensive mechanism, so that the COM can proof it is not biased in its choices of conversation partners); (3) as a precaution to prevent “Abramoff” to happen in the EU.

According to his explanations, the ETI is also meant fight “deceptive” lobbying i.e. via front groups. Those front groups were also cited to support the argument that financial disclosure is necessary in the proposed lobby register. Another argument used was that companies might use funds to lobby against regulation instead of using the same money in R&D to develop new, compliant solutions.

Well, even if those arguments are rather poor, it is worrying that the discourse does now revolve around this question. Not only is it very difficult to define which financial information should be required for disclosure, the COMs position to leave companies much flexibility as possible risks to blur the whole argument itself. If it is not prescribed exactly how to measure the numbers required, the data is not comparable and rather worthless. Though even more important is the fact that the speaker could only refer to peer pressure arguments as he responded to the question why the register is not compulsory or why the voluntary register does not have better incentives to register. Indeed also the exclusion argument (i.e. a compulsory register would put non Brussels based organisations at an disadvantage) does not hold, because it is entirely a procedural question i.e. one could offer a fast track registration for interest that seek for the first time contact with institution and that are not based in Brussels.

Thus, even if the lobby ecosystem depends to a large extend on the individual companies reputation (which serves a vital precondition to operate), it is questionable if the register will create a sufficiently powerful social dynamic to effectively “force” companies to register. We’ll see next year, the register is expected to open in spring 2008.