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Reform of EU transparency register

In July, the reformed EU Transparency Register came into force. In addition to the European Commission and the European Parliament, the Council now also participates in the register. This was preceded by four difficult years of negotiations. In principle, the industry welcomes a reform that makes the dialogue of interest representation open. However, the reform leads to more bureaucratic burdens for registered organisations without the EU institutions ensuring relevance, clarity and comparability of the publicly provided information.

The exchange between politics and political interest groups is an important cornerstone of political opinion-forming processes and is part of the foundation of the democratic decision-making process.

In the Transparency Reigster of the EU institutions, almost 13,000 organisations disclose in detail the human and financial resources they use to bring their interests into the EU legislative process. About half of these organisations are companies and associations - about 15 percent of which have their main administrative headquarters in Germany.

Entry in the register is a prerequisite for discussions with commissioners and their cabinet members as well as directors-general of the European Commission. These are published on the internet - including the name of the organisation and the topic of the discussion. Access to the buildings of the European Parliament is also linked to the entry in the register. In future, talks with high-ranking officials of the Parliament's administration, participation as a speaker at EP events and the organisation of such events will also be open exclusively to registered organisations. Meanwhile, EU Member States have decided that the register entry is a prerequisite for talks with high-ranking officials of the Brussels Council Secretariat, for participation in Council briefings and for participation as a speaker in public events of the Council. In addition, many EU member states want to apply these rules to their Permanent Representations in Brussels during their six-month EU Council Presidencies and the six months before. In short, effective representation of interests in Brussels is not possible without entry in the transparency register.

Disagreement on binding nature

The EU institutions' agreement on a reform of the register came at the end of 2020 after four complicated years of negotiations. There are fundamental differences of opinion between the Commission and the Parliament on how binding the register should be.

The European Commission demands that MEPs link their meetings with interest representatives to an entry in the transparency register. In the Parliament, such conditionality - as it has been in place in the Commission since 2014 - is considered incompatible with the MEP's free mandate. In the most recent revision of the EP Rules of Procedure, committee chairs, rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs were obliged to disclose all meetings with interest representatives. However, the ban on meetings with non-registered organisations demanded by the Commission failed to materialise. The Commission finally gave in.

Commission proposal punishes the wrong organisations

The BDI is actively involved in the discussion on the reform of the transparency register. German business has a great interest in ensuring that the dialogue between the EU institutions and all stakeholders is open and regular. This form of dialogue is a prerequisite for informed political decisions.

In the BDI's view, the reform of the register is not suitable for making the dialogue between the EU institutions and interest representatives more transparent. On the contrary, interest representatives are obliged to provide more and more data publicly without the EU institutions ensuring relevance, clarity and comparability of the information. This encourages misinterpretation and reputation-damaging reporting and penalises the very companies and trade associations that are properly complying. There is an urgent need for improvement here.

In Germany, lobbying rules have existed since the introduction of a public register of associations in 1972. However, political lobbying has evolved since then. It therefore seems sensible to review the effectiveness of the current transparency regulations and to adapt them to the present day.

"Alliance for Lobby Transparency"

Legitimate interest mediation and the provision of practical information in the preparation of legal regulations is still viewed critically by a broad public. It is assumed that legal regulations are prepared "behind closed doors" without all affected interests having an equal chance to be heard. The loss of trust does not only affect associations, but also the representatives of parliament and government.

To counteract this, the BDI, Transparency International Deutschland e.V., the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI), the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZBV), the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and Die Familienunternehmer have joined forces in an "Alliance for Lobby Transparency" and have drawn up a key points paper for a lobbying law. It is important to the members of this alliance that the same rules of the game apply to everyone in Germany as well.