On 3 May 2006, the European Commission published a Green Paper on “The European initiative on transparency”. It aimed at launching a public consultation on 3 main transparency implementations:
- The need for a more structured framework for the activities of interest representatives (lobbyists);
- Feedback on the Commission's minimum standards for consultation;
- Mandatory disclosure of information about the beneficiaries of EU funds under shared management.
1. The need for a more structured framework for the activities of interest representatives (lobbyists): The terminology is different: now, the “lobbyists” are “interest representatives” and the new register from the Commission (today CONECCS) will be called: “Register of the interest representatives”.
The Commission justifies this change in the terminology because of the negative aspect that some have found in the definition it was giving to the lobbying: "activities carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making processes of the European institutions".
Note : CECOP wished the former lobbying definition to be framed by a code of conduct: it has been decided to do so (see above).
The Commission suggested a new framework for lobbying activities which would be based on: - A voluntary registration system with incentives for lobbyists to register.
- A common code of conduct for all lobbyists, or at least common minimum requirements.
- A system of monitoring, and sanctions to be applied in the event of incorrect registration and/or breach of the code of conduct.
The Commission therefore intends to combine the voluntary register with a new standard template for internet consultations. If organisations submit their contributions in the context of such a consultation they will be systematically invited to use the register to declare whom they represent, what their mission is and how they are funded
Note: CECOP considers that the obligation to declare how they are funded was not relevant, even thought it is easier to identify the commissioners of important lobbying groups. It is not a problem for CECOP, neither at the political level nor at the practical one, as it is classified in the “NGO or reflection groups” category and it will only have to declare its overall budget and breakdown per main sources of funding (amounts and sources of public funding, donations, membership fees etc.).
The drafting of a code of conduct (see above) by the stakeholders themselves seems to be a problem as the Commission considers that Self-regulation of lobbyists is not seen as a viable option. So, the Commission should review and update the existing minimum requirements it adopted in 1992. The content of such a revamped code will be discussed with the stakeholders. Subscribing to the code should become a requirement for lobbyists wishing to be included in the new register, in line with the example set by the European Parliament.
Note: Foreseen sanctions: if this information is not communicated, the contributions will be considered as individual contributions. The information provided by the registered people will obvioulsy have to be correct. In case of a fault, they will be invited, if needed publicly, to review it and at last they could be taken off from the register of interest representatives. The Commission will decide the sanctions but we do not know about the organism which will be in charge of checking the veracity of the information provided. However, according to the Commission, there will be a deepened analysis of the participants.
The agenda : The Commission will launch the discussions with stakeholders on a common Code of Conduct before summer 2007, and open the Register for Interest Representatives in spring 2008. In spring 2009, The Commission will consider if the new system works efficiently. If not, it could take more severe measures as a compulsory registration and declaration system for example.
Note : The discussions will be intended before summer 2007, it is t osay in less than 3 months « with the stakeholders”. BUT the text does not say who are or who will be the stakeholders.
2. Consultation standards The attention of the Commission was drawn on some insufficiencies in the implementation of the consultation standards and notably on the lack of returns of the general information on which way and to which extent the formulated remarks are taken into account. It was also underlined that it was sometime difficult to respect the minimum deadline of 8 weeks for public consultations (for example when this period includes a main holiday). While it is not intended to review the content of the consultation standards at this stage10, a reinforcement of their application is necessary in order to raise further the general level of quality of the Commission's consultations. Such a reinforced application will focus, in particular on providing better feedback, a more coordinated approach to consultation and the need for ensuring plurality of views and interests expressed in consultations. This approach will help improve the quality of the Commission's impact assessments, thereby contributing to the implementation of the Commission's 'better regulation' policy.
Note: The 8 weeks deadline has already been blamed at the occasion of a previous meeting on transparency which CECOP attended. Some participants highlighted that between the moment of the call and the contribution's deadline, they did not have the time to read the documents, to communicate them to their members (the latter did not have the sufficient time for reflection) and to draft their contribution. If this “official” deadline has not been changed, we observe however a real will from the Commission to take into account this remark. Some consultations are now planned for 3 months (example: consultation on labour law - which allowed us to draft a contribution of quality).
3. Publication on the identity of the beneficiaries of community funds To achieve the goal of publishing the data as of 2008, the following procedure has been chosen:
Step 1: Publishing the data in their current form In accordance with the provisions of the amended Financial Regulation and the applicable sector specific legislation, those Member States who have not yet done so will grant public access to data, through national websites and other means they see fit, for all shared management programmes. The Commission will host a central web portal with links to the relevant websites in Member States. This site will, in turn, be linked to the website on EU funds under direct management launched by the Commission in 2006. This will ensure equality of treatment as between direct and shared management programmes.
Step 2: Ensuring the comparability and 'searchability' of data The Commission fully acknowledges the need for searchable and comparable data and, as a further step, will in autumn 2007 propose a common standard for the publication of data on shared management, so as to enable interested parties to carry out consistent analyses across the EU, accessing the data published by the Member States through the central Commission portal. This common standard will take into account the specific features of the various policies under shared management.
4. Conclusions Most of the CECOP claims are satisfied. There is a recurring complaint however: the dispersal of information provided by the Commission's services. The research of relevant information is still an assault course. There are still 2 questions which remain unanswered:
1. Who is going to make a deepened analysis, within the Commission, of the participants to the consultations within the framework of their registration to the new register? Until now, nobody, including the services from the Commission could tell who is going to control the veracity of the declarations, and above all, the financial declaration of the “representatives of interest” registered to the new register. Its general secretariat maybe! But will it be straight forward on the basis of a “denunciation”? What is sure is that the “main lobbying groups” have already set this issue on their agenda of their upcoming lobby as it will probably reveal the origin and the importance of their source of funding.
2. Who are the stakeholders who the Commission will discuss with on the drafting of the code of conduct? In principle, the contact Group of the civil society (to which the Social Platform belongs to and CECOP by extension through its affiliation to this later) will participate to these discussions. In this case, we could ask to collaborate.