The European Commission is today proposing a mandatory Transparency Register covering all three EU institutions – the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission - delivering on a key transparency commitment of the Juncker Commission.
What has the Commission proposed?
The Commission has proposed a mandatory Transparency Register, based on a new Interinstitutional Agreement (IIA) covering the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the Commission. The proposal aims to strengthen and extend the current scheme which covers only the European Parliament and the Commission.
The proposals will ensure high standards of transparency in all three institutions by moving from a voluntary system to one where registration becomes a precondition for interest representation at EU level, by making certain interactions, in particular meetings with decision-makers in the EU institutions conditional upon prior registration.
The Commission has also proposed a number of changes to strengthen the monitoring and control of the data in the Register, with enhanced human and IT resources and better controls and enforcement of the rules.
The proposal to create a mandatory transparency register covering all three institutions through an IIA was announced in President Juncker's Political Guidelines as one of the Commission's priorities. It was then included in the Commission's Work Programme, and we are now delivering on this commitment.
How are interest representatives compelled to join the Transparency Register?
The new rules will make access by interest representatives to decision-makers, premises, policy forums or information subject to prior registration in the Register and acceptance of the Code of Conduct, making it a precondition for interest representation.
The Commission has already taken ambitious measures. These include the rule set out in the Juncker Commission's Working Methods that Commissioners, their staff (i.e. "Cabinet" Members) and Directors-General will not meet with anybody not on the Transparency Register. These measures are reflected in the proposed IIA.
In the European Parliament, interest representatives will need to sign up to the Register in order to have meetings with MEPs, the Secretary-General, Directors-General and Secretaries-General of political groups. Registration as a condition for speaking at Committee hearings and for holding events on Parliament premises is also proposed.
In the Council, interest representatives would need to be on the Register to meet with the Council's Secretary-General and Directors-General or with the Ambassador of the current or forthcoming Presidency of the Council, as well as their deputies. The text also foresees a mechanism allowing Member States, on a voluntary basis, to make certain interactions with their Permanent Representations conditional upon prior registration.
What are the other changes compared to the current system?
As well as moving to a mandatory system, covering all three institutions, the Commission is putting forward a number of improvements with a view to refining or strengthening the current system. Key changes include:
Clearer definition of 'lobbying': The new Agreement streamlines the broad definition of activities covered by the Register, which is one of the main strengths of the current EU system compared to many national lobbying regulation regimes. At the same time, the activities not covered by the register are more clearly set out.
Exemption for local and regional governments: The current Register does not apply to certain specified entities, for example, churches and religious communities, political parties, Member States' government services, third countries' governments, international intergovernmental organisations and their diplomatic missions. In addition to these, the new Agreement will also exclude local and regional authorities as well as their representative associations from the scope of the Register. This reflects feedback from the public consultation and is based on the fact that these public and democratically elected structures have a special status in the European multi-level system of governance. Representation of their interests cannot be equated with lobbying activities.
Simplified data disclosure requirements: The new Agreement revises the data disclosure requirements to strike a more appropriate balance between the need for transparency and the need to reduce the administrative burden of compliance. The data requirements now focus on the most relevant information as regards efforts to influence law-making. This includes costs of such activities for those who pursue their own interests, the relevant revenues for intermediaries, and the budgets of not-for-profit entities and their main sources of financing.
Effective enforcement: The new Agreement will improve overall data quality by introducing systematic ex-ante checks on new registrations and simplifying the data reporting requirements. The Code of Conduct which sets out the principles of behaviour for interactions with the EU institutions will also be reinforced and made more precise. A more robust mechanism to handle breaches of the Code of Conduct and apply proportional measures when appropriate will be introduced. Registrants who do not respect the rules could face suspension from certain types of interaction (e.g. meetings with institutions) and removal from the Register.
Creating stronger management structures: A well-functioning Register requires adequate resources, in particular to control the quality of data and enforce the rules. The new Agreement foresees a new management structure for the Register Secretariat with a view to achieving efficient decision-making. It defines the tasks of the Register Secretariat and its Coordinator and foresees a Management Board composed of the Secretaries-General of the three institutions.
How did the Commission prepare this proposal?
In preparing this proposal the Commission consulted widely, listening to stakeholders, to the views of the European Parliament, the Council and the European Ombudsman. On 2 May, European Parliament Vice-President Sylvie Guillaume and Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans hosted a public debate, bringing together stakeholders from Brussels as well as Member States, to debate key themes of the consultation.
A 12-week public consultation was organised to gather views on the functioning of the current Transparency Register and input for the design of the new mandatory regime. A total of 1,758 replies were received to the public consultation, from all EU Member States; 975 responses came from individual citizens and 783 from organisations. The main conclusions from the replies to the public consultation can be summarised as follows:
Most respondents considered that the EU institutions should lead by example in the area of transparency and in the framing of interactions of interest representatives with decision-makers;
The need for the proposal to deliver a 'mandatory' system was stressed by many, although views diverged on how best to achieve this goal;
The Register's broad definition of lobbying activities was deemed appropriate by most stakeholders;
There was wide agreement on the necessity to improve the quality of data and the scope for simplification of some requirements on financial data;
The Code of Conduct is broadly seen as appropriate, but stakeholders highlighted the need to improve monitoring and enforcement and to boost the capacity of the Register Secretariat;
Specific issues arose in relation to local and regional authorities and their associations who sought to be excluded from the system;
The website was positively perceived and the registration/updating process was considered user-friendly.
Why did the Commission propose an Interinstitutional Agreement rather than another instrument?
The Commission considers that an Interinstitutional Agreement based on Article 295 TFEU is the most pragmatic and promising option to achieve a mandatory scheme in a reasonable timeframe. The proposal's core aim is to make interactions with the EU institutions more transparent, not to regulate lobbying activity at Member State level, therefore an Interinstitutional Agreement is more appropriate than a Regulation or a Directive.
What are the next steps?
This proposal is an important step towards a common and mandatory transparency regime at the EU level. The Commission is inviting the Council and the European Parliament to negotiate with a view to establishing as swiftly as possible a mandatory Register covering all three institutions.