Gianluca Sgueo, How Lobbying Transparency Benefits Institutional Accountability – The European Union Case, Osservatorio AIR paper series . Available at SSRN
Lobbying has become an increasingly prominent topic in European Union’s political and institutional debates over the last twenty years. Regulatory efforts to address lobbying practices have developed accordingly. TheEuropean Parliament set up its transparency register in 1995, followed by the Commission in 2008. In 2011 the two institutions merged their two instruments in a joint European Transparency Register. In 2014 Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker put the issue of transparency of lobbying regulation on the political agenda, committing to introduce a proposal for a mandatory register by 2016. Further, as of 1 December 2014 onwards, the Commission has undertaken to publish information regarding the meetings of the Commissioners, the members of their cabinets and Directors-General with lobbyists.
There is a widespread consensus among policy-makers – the European Union being no exception – that transparency of lobbying and the accountability of decision making are connected in a cause-consequence relationship. According to this interpretation, the more the activities of pressure groups are transparent, the more policy-making is perceived as accountable. However, opinions differ on how to concretely benefit accountability with increased transparency of lobbying activities. Two questions are particularly debated. (1) To begin with, there is no agreed notion of the boundaries of transparency of lobbying activities. Does transparency of lobbying only concern the availability of information on the economic and human resources involved by pressure groups, or it should also include other information (e.g. the objectives of lobbying and/or the ethical behaviour of lobbyists)? Further, are business organizations and civil society organisations subjected to different rules of transparency? (2) Second, it is disputed what should be the best approach to regulate lobbying activities. Non mandatory lobbying registers – as in the case of the European Union – are often criticized because of the incomplete and inaccurate information they offer. To transform the EuropeanTransparency Register from a voluntary to a mandatory system, however, is a complex endeavor, both on the political and the legal sides. Furthermore, mandatory registers do not escape criticism. In the United States, for instance, many have cancelled their registration to the federal register (while still working as lobbyists) when the federal government decided to tighten up the rules governing the transparency of lobbying.
This paper has two main goals. The first is to illustrate the efforts put by European Union’s institution to regulate lobbying activities, the shortcomings of the current regulation and the impact of these shortcomings (both in purely economic terms and for institutional accountability). The second goal is to discuss how transparency and institutional accountability are related – and what problems are generated by this relationship – in order to understand how reform of lobbying regulation may concretely benefit to increase the accountability of European Union.