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EU: Lobbying, European style

by Matthew SaltmarshInternational Herald Tribune
October 27th, 2006

If the European Union's eight-year effort to tighten laws governing chemicals testing has spawned one of the biggest and most costly industry lobbying campaigns that Brussels has ever seen, it has also given new impetus to efforts to regulate how lobbying is done at the European Commission.
 
Unlike the United States, the European Union prefers self-regulation for the 15,000 to 20,000 lobbyists in Brussels. But the ongoing fight over the chemicals initiative, known as REACH, has heightened concerns that the system is prone to conflicts of interest and lacks transparency.
 
The European Parliament estimates that more than 70 percent of EU lobbyists work for corporate interests; 20 percent represent non-profit groups like trade unions, public health organizations and environmentalists; while the rest promote the interests of regions, cities and international institutions.
 
One of the red flags raised by critics is how easy it can be to move from the public to the private sector.
 
A high-level European Commission official, Jean-Paul Mingasson, who was working on the chemicals dossier, left two years ago to join Unice, the Brussels-based European employers' association.
 
Mingasson admitted that he left the Commission "just a couple of months" before taking up his new lobbying job. But he denied in a telephone interview any conflict of interest and stressed that he had had the "full authorization" of the commission to carry out his new job, and that he had "no operational responsibility" on the chemicals dossier.
 
Other cases have also raised eyebrows. Elizabeth Surkovic jumped between the British Chemical Industries Association, the British government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the European Chemical Industry Council, or Cefic within a few years.
 
Just this month, Henri Piffaut, a European Commission official chosen to lead the antitrust case against Microsoft, left to work for a LECG, a consultancy that has the software company as a client.
 
Aside from hiring former civil servants, some lobbyists have imported techniques from the United States such as front groups, where a corporation faced with regulation, like a product ban, hires a public relations or lobbying firm to produce its own scientific arguments.
 
For example, the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum and the Alliance for Consumer Fire Safety in Europe were created by and share office space in Brussels with the international public relations firm Burson- Marsteller, working on behalf of a consortium of manufacturers of the chemical bromine, a substance that the EU had been trying to limit.
 
Of the EU institutions, only the European Parliament regulates lobbyists. It has an accreditation system for all needing frequent access to its premises, plus a code of conduct with which they must comply.
 
The European Commission, by contrast, runs neither an accreditation system nor a compulsory register of organizations that have dealings with it, and has no code of conduct, apart from for commissioners themselves. They are asked not to engage in other professional activity, not accept any payment other than from the commission and to avoid conflict of interests.
 
As part of a wider "European transparency initiative," the commission has started a debate on the relations between business and non-governmental lobbyists and the EU institutions.
 
In May, the commission released a study acknowledging that while lobbying is "perfectly legitimate," it needed to "ensure there is clarity about who the lobbyists represent, what their mission is and how they are funded."
 
The commission has already taken one step which aims to balance out corporate lobbying: It provides an estimated €1 billion to public interest groups like Friends of the Earth and ????, which then mount their own lobbying efforts.
 
Lobbyists have been asked to sign up to a voluntary, Web-based registration system and a common code of conduct. But they they were not obliged to reveal details of who they represent, how they are funded or their relations with EU officials.
 
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation, or ALTER- EU, a coalition of over 140 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms, has criticized the commission's approach as "inadequate" and lacking public scrutiny.
 
ALTER-EU is also calling for senior officials to be banned from lobbying the EU institutions for three years after they leave the public sector. It also wants official gifts with a value of more than €150, including travel food and beverages, to be made illegal.
 
"The current codes of conduct of public affairs companies are not good because they lack independent monitoring and effective sanctions and leave no role for public scrutiny of lobbying," said Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe and a member of ALTER- EU's steering committee. "The commission must apply clear rules with sanctions in case of non-compliance and false registration or else the whole exercise is not credible."
 
Lobbyists are countering with their own proposals for self-regulation. In May, the European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association, which represents 70 percent of lobbyists in Brussels, created an independent panel with the power to blacklist or expel members UNLESS THEY?? obey a code of conduct that forbids, among other things, improper gifts to public officials and misrepresenting their interests.
 
The Society of European Affairs Professionals also opposes compulsory registration of lobbyists in Brussels or the introduction of the American model in Europe.
 
The U.S. Congress requireslobbyists to file twice-a-year reports that list their clients, how much they are being paid, and what issues they are lobbying on.
 
The system helped uncover the recent scandal involving Jack Abramoff, a high-powered Washington lobbyist with close ties to Republican leaders. His lobbying operation collapsed during a federal inquiry that led to his guilty plea in January on charges of corrupting public officials and defrauding Indian tribes.
 
Non-profit groups note that elements of the Abramoff scandal, like golfing vacations, free restaurant meals and box seats at sporting events, could be acceptable under the informal rules that police the system in Brussels.
 
 
PARIS If the European Union's eight-year effort to tighten laws governing chemicals testing has spawned one of the biggest and most costly industry lobbying campaigns that Brussels has ever seen, it has also given new impetus to efforts to regulate how lobbying is done at the European Commission.
 
Unlike the United States, the European Union prefers self-regulation for the 15,000 to 20,000 lobbyists in Brussels. But the ongoing fight over the chemicals initiative, known as REACH, has heightened concerns that the system is prone to conflicts of interest and lacks transparency.
 
The European Parliament estimates that more than 70 percent of EU lobbyists work for corporate interests; 20 percent represent non-profit groups like trade unions, public health organizations and environmentalists; while the rest promote the interests of regions, cities and international institutions.
 
One of the red flags raised by critics is how easy it can be to move from the public to the private sector.
 
A high-level European Commission official, Jean-Paul Mingasson, who was working on the chemicals dossier, left two years ago to join Unice, the Brussels-based European employers' association.
 
Mingasson admitted that he left the Commission "just a couple of months" before taking up his new lobbying job. But he denied in a telephone interview any conflict of interest and stressed that he had had the "full authorization" of the commission to carry out his new job, and that he had "no operational responsibility" on the chemicals dossier.
 
Other cases have also raised eyebrows. Elizabeth Surkovic jumped between the British Chemical Industries Association, the British government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the European Chemical Industry Council, or Cefic within a few years.
 
Just this month, Henri Piffaut, a European Commission official chosen to lead the antitrust case against Microsoft, left to work for a LECG, a consultancy that has the software company as a client.
 
Aside from hiring former civil servants, some lobbyists have imported techniques from the United States such as front groups, where a corporation faced with regulation, like a product ban, hires a public relations or lobbying firm to produce its own scientific arguments.
 
For example, the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum and the Alliance for Consumer Fire Safety in Europe were created by and share office space in Brussels with the international public relations firm Burson- Marsteller, working on behalf of a consortium of manufacturers of the chemical bromine, a substance that the EU had been trying to limit.
 
Of the EU institutions, only the European Parliament regulates lobbyists. It has an accreditation system for all needing frequent access to its premises, plus a code of conduct with which they must comply.
 
The European Commission, by contrast, runs neither an accreditation system nor a compulsory register of organizations that have dealings with it, and has no code of conduct, apart from for commissioners themselves. They are asked not to engage in other professional activity, not accept any payment other than from the commission and to avoid conflict of interests.
 
As part of a wider "European transparency initiative," the commission has started a debate on the relations between business and non-governmental lobbyists and the EU institutions.
 
In May, the commission released a study acknowledging that while lobbying is "perfectly legitimate," it needed to "ensure there is clarity about who the lobbyists represent, what their mission is and how they are funded."
 
The commission has already taken one step which aims to balance out corporate lobbying: It provides an estimated €1 billion to public interest groups like Friends of the Earth and ????, which then mount their own lobbying efforts.
 
Lobbyists have been asked to sign up to a voluntary, Web-based registration system and a common code of conduct. But they they were not obliged to reveal details of who they represent, how they are funded or their relations with EU officials.
 
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation, or ALTER- EU, a coalition of over 140 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms, has criticized the commission's approach as "inadequate" and lacking public scrutiny.
 
ALTER-EU is also calling for senior officials to be banned from lobbying the EU institutions for three years after they leave the public sector. It also wants official gifts with a value of more than €150, including travel food and beverages, to be made illegal.
 
"The current codes of conduct of public affairs companies are not good because they lack independent monitoring and effective sanctions and leave no role for public scrutiny of lobbying," said Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe and a member of ALTER- EU's steering committee. "The commission must apply clear rules with sanctions in case of non-compliance and false registration or else the whole exercise is not credible."
 
Lobbyists are countering with their own proposals for self-regulation. In May, the European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association, which represents 70 percent of lobbyists in Brussels, created an independent panel with the power to blacklist or expel members UNLESS THEY?? obey a code of conduct that forbids, among other things, improper gifts to public officials and misrepresenting their interests.
 
The Society of European Affairs Professionals also opposes compulsory registration of lobbyists in Brussels or the introduction of the American model in Europe.
 
The U.S. Congress requireslobbyists to file twice-a-year reports that list their clients, how much they are being paid, and what issues they are lobbying on.
 
The system helped uncover the recent scandal involving Jack Abramoff, a high-powered Washington lobbyist with close ties to Republican leaders. His lobbying operation collapsed during a federal inquiry that led to his guilty plea in January on charges of corrupting public officials and defrauding Indian tribes.
 
Non-profit groups note that elements of the Abramoff scandal, like golfing vacations, free restaurant meals and box seats at sporting events, could be acceptable under the informal rules that police the system in Brussels.





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