New report shows urgent need to rescue EU's ineffective lobby register

The European Commission and European Parliament's joint lobby register turns two years old this week, and a new report by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) shows that the voluntary register is still failing to get a sufficient share of lobbyists to register and remains packed with unreliable and incomplete data. ALTER-EU calls on the Commission and Parliament to use the opportunity of the register's review to make the Transparency Register mandatory.

The report, Rescue the Register! How to make EU lobby transparency credible and reliable, shows that more than 100 large companies involved in Brussels lobbying are missing, including Goldman Sachs, Rio Tinto, Amazon and Belfius. The continued boycott by large law firms offering lobbying services is also of concern, with some firms abandoning the register when challenged to follow rules about disclosing lobby clients. A significant share of lobby consultancies, industry groups, MEP-industry forums, think tanks and NGOs also remain unregistered.

“Rescue the Register!” concludes that the voluntary approach has failed and that a mandatory register is needed to guarantee real transparency around lobbying in Brussels. The creation of a mandatory register can be agreed during the register's official review process, which begins this month. Whereas the European Parliament has repeatedly called for a transition to a mandatory register, the Commission stubbornly continues to defend the voluntary approach. But as the legal study presented by ALTER-EU earlier this week concluded, there is a legal base for a mandatory register in the EU Treaties, based on Article 298 (2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the implied powers doctrine.

The report also presents extensive evidence of the limited, unreliable and often outdated information disclosed in the register. For example, the top-three biggest spending companies on EU lobbying, according to the register, are a medium-sized French insurance company and two small companies, including an organic baby-clothes producer. While these unrealistically high declarations are most likely mistakes, it also reveals that large players like FoodDrinkEurope and Ebay are likely to be under-reporting their lobby expenditures. The result is that the register currently provides a misleading picture of who the big players in Brussels lobbying are.

To make matters worse, ALTER-EU's experience of the register's complaints procedure shows a sometimes lax approach to implementing the register's rules. The report makes detailed recommendations for solving these problems, including stricter disclosure requirements and stronger enforcement.

"The verdict is clear: the register is not 'de facto mandatory' and the information remains seriously unreliable. The promises made by Commissioner Šefčovič when the new register was launched two years ago have not been met. Only a more ambitious approach based on a mandatory register will shed light on the actors influencing the decision-making process in Brussels", said Olivier Hoedeman, Campaigns Coordinator at Corporate Europe Observatory.

"Citizens have a right to know who is trying to influence their laws – about who is lobbying, on whose behalf and with what budgets. If the Commission is serious about the EU's Year of the Citizen, it must acknowledge that the voluntary approach will not, and cannot, deliver meaningful lobbying transparency. Under the voluntary system those most reluctant to embrace transparency, notably law firms, are permitted to lobby in the shadows. This can no longer be seen as permissible", said Nina Katzemich from LobbyControl.

As the voluntary Joint Transparency Register turns two, and the institutions prepare for the register's review, ALTER-EU presents its final verdict: the register can and must be made mandatory.