Some entries in the EU's transparency register are incomplete and inconsistent – suggesting more pressure needs to be put on lobbyists to provide comprehensive and up-to-date information, says campaign group
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation, ALTER-EU, reported in June
that one year after its launch the European Union's transparency register still failed to reflect the reality of lobbying in Brussels. Three months later, has the data improved?
Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest spenders in the register have not amended their entries. Panavision still declares spending more on lobbying than ExxonMobil, Shell and GDF Suez combined. And the largest player overall remains Georgios Stilianou
, a self-employed consultant, whose stated goal is "to provide job to unemployment persons in Cyprus", and who claims to have spent €100m on EU lobbying in 2011.
Some reported big spenders have acknowledged mistakes in their entries, for example Schneider Electric and DEKRA e.V. Others have updated their entries, whereas some – for instance the Ayudantia Gip S Coop, spending €18m – have disappeared.
Similarly, some entities that declared no lobby expenditure have also disappeared – for example ATP Consulting and Authentic Kopi Luwak. Others such as Avanssa have increased their expenditure, whereas some continue to declare zero, without giving any justification, as required by the guidelines
. The latter include GTF Management and Marketing & Communication GmbH.
, on the other hand, argues that: "Submissions to the EU are only an extremely small part of the work of three individuals and, in our view, has no marginal cost. We only respond to taxation issues and would not expect to make more than two submissions in a year." This does not fit the guidelines' examples of acceptable justifications, and also seems misleading. A cursory Google search reveals Deloitte submissions to 2012 European Commission consultations on reform of the EU banking sector, gender imbalance in corporate boards, and accounting standards.
Unrealistically low declarations also remain a problem. The European Crop Protection Association and the European Fund and Assets Management Association declare between €100,000 and €150,000, yet employ 10 and 14 lobbyists respectively in Brussels. Given that staff costs must be included and are estimated at up to €100,000 per year, these figures seem low. And apparently just two members of biotech lobby EuropaBio's
16-strong Brussels team are involved in lobbying.
Many large companies and renowned lobby consultancies remain unregistered, including Monsanto, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Bell Pottinger and Ketchum Pleon Belgium. Law firms that provide lobbying services are also absent – for example Covington & Burling, DLA Piper and WilmerHale. Of those registered, many have failed to disclose their lobby clients. Indeed, White and Case and Reed Smith LLP were suspended for breaching this guideline, according to the register's secretariat.
Reed Smith LLP has now been reinstated
after adding a client list. However, despite a lobby budget of €10m, this lists only one client, bringing in less than €50,000. Even more curiously, Reed Smith LLP claims no-one is involved in their €10m lobbying practice, and still fails to declare what it lobbies on. Given the glaring omissions and contradictory information it is staggering that Reed Smith has been reinstated.
Linklaters LLP also fails to list clients, but claims that it "does not engage in lobbying related activities but exclusively provides legal advice to its clients". Yet, under lobbying activities they list various policy dossiers, including MiFID regulation and the capital requirements directive. Moreover, Linklaters' website states that they have "a proven track record of advocacy before the European commission".
The guidelines also forbid unidentifiable collective designations such as "corporates" or "confidential information" as client lists, yet FDI Top Consult SRL lists only "private clients". KEA European Affairs lobby expenditure and sums per client do not add up, suggesting it is incomplete.
Another frequent failure is in detailing the main EU initiatives being lobbied on, with the European Atomic Forum listing "Nuclear energy", and BusinessEurope
taking the prize with "All topics that matter to European companies". And while the guidelines state that any person benefiting from a European Parliamentary pass counts as one full lobbyist, the Association of European Airlines lists six people with passes totalling 1.5 lobbyists. A slightly worrying calculation given the necessity of accurate mathematics for safe aviation.
One year on, the transparency register is still not "de facto mandatory" as the commissioner responsible, Maros Sefcovic, has suggested. He stated in November 2011 that regular checks would be made, but the results are disappointing, for while some organisations have been suspended for breaching the guidelines, there is no consistency and some appear to be reinstated without meeting the criteria.
It is clear that those who wish to avoid disclosure can easily do so. After four years of "voluntary lobbying transparency", the inevitable conclusion is that the EU must move towards mandatory registration. In the meantime, the commission and parliament must introduce far tougher pressure to force lobbyists to register, and to make accurate, complete and up-to-date entries.
Rachel Tansey is a campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory