Siim Kallas, the European commissioner for administrative affairs, is considering revising the European Commission's register of lobbyists and interest representatives to tighten its rules on financial disclosure.
Lobbyists on the register would be given less choice about how they disclose their income from clients. A distinction between direct and indirect lobbying activities would be done away with.
The changes being contemplated, which have not yet been put to Kallas's fellow commissioners for approval, would be proposed as part of a review of the first year of operation of the register.
They would also form the basis of negotiations with the European Parliament about merging the Commission's register with the Parliament's register of lobbyists, which is currently separate.
In an interview with European Voice, Kallas said that he favoured requiring consultancies to use a single method for declaring their earnings from clients. Under the current rules, consultancies can declare the income from individual clients as a percentage of their total income (in bands of 10%) or in actual amounts (in bands of €50,000). Kallas wants a single counting system to make it easier to compare data from different companies.
“Probably we have given too wide a choice,” he said.
He refused to state his preference explicitly, but he made clear that he saw disadvantages with the percentage bands. Percentages exact less information from big companies with a large turnover and several clients, but reveal more about small organisations with a low income and few clients.
José Lalloum, chairman of the European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association and managing partner of Logos public affairs, said: “Any unilateral change in the rules for the register will not be welcome, especially on financial disclosure.” Lalloum said that many consultancies had declared client income in percentage terms. Removing this option would not increase their motivation to sign the register, he said.
Under the rules of the register, industry or trade associations have to declare their total spending on direct lobbying. But the requirement has given rise to disputes over what constitutes direct or indirect lobbying, with different interpretations of how to interpret activity that does not involve face-to-face contact with Commission officials or MEPs. The commissioner will recommend removing the distinction so as to cover a wider range of activities.
Lyn Trytsman-Gray, president of the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP), said that lobbying needed to be defined much more tightly with specific examples of the types of activity that should be treated as lobbying. Dropping the word “direct” would not solve the lack of clarity, she said.
Trytsman-Gray said that it was important for SEAP members that the Commission addressed the procedure for suspending organisations from the register. Referring to a recent case, in which the European chemicals industry council (Cefic) was suspended for under-reporting its spending on lobbying activities, she said companies that had signed up to the register were concerned that the process was unclear and could expose them to unjustified negative publicity. “There has to be some transparent and fair way in which [suspensions], are handled” she said, with greater clarity over timelines and the right to reply.
Kallas said that not enough law firms and think-tanks had signed up to the register and he would be looking for ways to encourage them to do so. Uniting the Commission register with the Parliament register would be one way, because lobbyists value their badge of access to the Parliament buildings.