The resignation of the European commissioner for health and consumer protection, John Dalli, has again put a spotlight on the world of lobbying and the EU's own anti-corruption systems (11-17 October). As Transparency International has repeatedly stated, lobbying is an area fraught with corruption risks.
Rules must be in place to ensure the legitimacy of the decision-making process and root out possible conflicts of interest. In recent years the EU has come a long way. The transparency register, improved codes of conduct, greater transparency in the decision-making procedures – all these underline the EU's commitment to curbing corruption.
Lobbying has evolved enormously over the years, but the rules regulating it are still playing ‘catch-up'. For example, lobbying is increasingly transnational. A recent Transparency International report concluded that the vast majority of European countries assessed have yet to implement legislation to regulate lobbying, while those that have legislation often lack an enforcement mechanism and sanctions for non-compliance.
In Brussels, the EU lobby register is only voluntary and is in need of significant improvements. One small step would be to make it mandatory. One big step would be for all policymakers to ensure before agreeing to meet with lobbyists that they are fully registered.
In addition, the code of conduct for European commissioners clearly stipulates that they need to avoid any situation that could give rise to a conflict of interest. However, we cannot rely only on the good consciences of commissioners to ensure that improper attempts to influence EU legislation are uncovered. Transparency International believes there should be a public record of input by private interest groups on EU legislation (a ‘legislative footprint').
Such a record would include not only high-level meetings but also input provided by interest groups. The European Parliament would also benefit from such a system – for example, rapporteurs could include such a record as an annex to their reports. This could also be extended to the publication of amendments allowing members of the European parliament – who are understandably not experts on the various issues they work on – to elaborate on where recommendations originated.
This would help to make EU decision-making a lot more transparent. It would also ensure independent monitoring, based on the footprint. The public can then make up its own mind whether the outcomes reflect the public interest or privileged private access.
Over the years, the EU has made enormous progress in increasing the transparency of decision-making and lobbying. However, the threat of corruption is still significant.