Time for Transparency in the EU

A recent example of misleading business lobbying, uncovered by Corporate Europe Observatory, is the ‘Campaign for Creativity’ (C4C). Whilst the campaign gives the impression that it is an organisation of artists, musicians, designers, software developers and other creative professionals, it is in reality orchestrated by Campbell Gentry, a public affairs firm.

C4C has been highly active in lobbying members of the European Parliament to adopt strong protection on software patents, a position advantageous to large software multinationals. Whilst the website vaguely mentions that the campaign is "supported by" software multinationals (Microsoft and SAP among others), and industry association CompTIA, the overall impression is of a campaign by creative individuals.

When C4C was asked for details of how it was financed, no clear answers were forthcoming. It remains unclear, therefore, if C4C is truly an organization that represents creative professionals, or if this appearance is merely to the benefit of the software multinationals who finance the campaign.

In addition to using front organisations, European public affairs practitioners, largely funded by big businesses, have a variety of tactics at their disposal. Think-tank and research institute funding, the funding of patient groups by the pharmaceutical industry, and the ability to commission report after report, all create conditions that obscure the identities and interests of the involved parties. The situation is worsened still when former public officials regularly go to work for lobbying firms to lobby the institutions where they previously worked.

After seeing the detrimental impacts of deceptive lobbying on many areas of policy, including international development, public health, and the environment, a coalition of organizations has formed The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU). Alter-EU calls for the implementation of mandatory lobbying disclosure; all lobbying organizations (including NGOs) over a certain size should submit information on how they are funded and what areas of public policy they have been working on. Disclosure of meetings and communications between lobbyists and high ranking public officials and a cooling-off period before EU public officials can be hired for lobbying work would also ensure transparency on whose interests are being considered in policy formulation.

The tragedy for European democracy would be for business lobbyists to be successful in watering down Commissioner Kallas’ strong stance to date by proposing self-regulatory standards. Commissioner Kallas’ European Transparency Initiative has the potential to tackle these serious issues at the heart of European democracy. The opportunity must not be missed.

For more information go to: www.alter-eu.org or www.corporateeurope.org