Brussels-based Paul de Clerck, director of public affairs at Friends of the Earth and active founding member of Alter-EU, addressed the branch at our monthly meeting on 23 February 2006.
The European Transparency Initiative, launched by the European Commission last year, has set itself the objective of connecting the European public to the EU institutions and of opening up the black box many perceive Europe to be. Yet the Commission is itself subject to vigorous lobbying.
Alter-EU is an audacious pressure group comprised of 150 organisations from Europe – mostly NGOs, public affairs bodies, trade unions, journalist federations and other stakeholders. It wants to see the EU institutions deliver on increased openness and public accessibility. It aims to influence the on-going debate and raise more awareness in the member states via its different members active at the grass roots.
A Code of Conduct for lobbyists is at the centre of discussions and in this context Alter-EU is demanding the following:
- That the code be mandatory.
- That a lobby’s interest be made known.
- In the case of a public affairs firm, that the client be revealed.
- That the monies involved in the lobbying process be made public.
- That all the issues being lobbies be declared.
Alter-EU believes the system should be electronically accessible to enable quick checks by officials or the general public.
The group wants stricter rules of conduct. Though branch organisations of public affairs firms have codes of conduct, too much vagueness prevails and no specific definition of conflict of interest exists. A culture of revolving doors persists and to address this a three-year watershed should be imposed on outgoing officials – forbidding them from lobbying on issues they dealt while working inside the institutions. The aim is to create
a level playing field and enable the often under-represented voice of civil society to be heard.
Formal consultation processes by the Commission should be publicly announced and reported upon. In the case of new legislation proposals, interests involved in the preparatory process should also be made public before any agreement is reached.
When the Commission starts a consultation process, all stake-holders should be involved to prevent privileged high-level working groups currently in operation.
A lively question and answer session followed the presentation.