Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
European section of United Cities and Local Governments

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​Transparency Register - 12.05.2017

MEP Sven Giegold: “Local government are part of the EU’s multi-level system of governance, not lobbyists”
For several years, the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) has shown its concern about the scope of the transparency register, the so-called “lobby register”. According to CEMR, governments of towns and cities are democratic bodies, and should not be confused with corporate lobbies. Therefore, they should be exempt from the transparency register, as stated by MEP Sven Giegold’s report on transparency, responsibility and integrity in European institutions.

Now that the European Commission, the Parliament and the Council are currently working on a common transparency register, we have interviewed Mr Giegold on the state of play of the negotiations as well as on the benefits of a transparency register for a more open and transparent decision-making process.

The European Parliament, the Commission and the Council are currently working together to develop a common transparency register covering all EU institutions. How far are we in this process?

The European Parliament is about to decide its negotiation position towards the Commission and the Council. The Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) asked me end of 2014 to prepare a report on Transparency, Accountability and Integrity in the EU Institutions. After long debates and in a live-streamed session, AFCO adopted this report on 21 March 2017 with near unanimity. It includes many proposals on how to bring the transparency register closer to a mandatory system and make it easier to use for both citizens and lobbyists.
A few months ago, the Parliament’s Conference of Presidents of the political groups appointed two lead negotiators, Sylvie Guillaume and Danuta Hübner. The two drafted a negotiation mandate, assisted by a non-public contact group of representatives of all political groups, including me. The draft mandate is on the agenda of the Conference of Presidents on Thursday 11 May. Christian democrats, Socialists and Liberals insist on a transparent process on questions of transparency. The group leaders will have to decide if they take up the detailed demands adopted by AFCO or confirm a mandate that so far lacks ambition. I do not give up my best hopes. On Wednesday 10 May, international experts and EU stakeholders had a last chance to influence the decision in a public hearing on the transparency register.
Within the Council, the arguments between Member States in favour of transparency (POLITICO reports about Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain and Belgium) and those sceptical about it (Germany, Hungary, Poland, Greece, Slovakia and Luxembourg) still wages on. The Parliament has called many times on the Council to join the Register which so far is based on an Interinstitutional Agreement between the Parliament and the Commission. We hope these negotiations start soon for all three main EU-institutions.
CEMR believes that democratically elected local governments and their associations should not be considered as lobbyists representing private interests. As the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the transparency register, can you present the European Parliament’s views on this issue?

Elected representatives of local government are part of the EU’s multi-level system of governance, not lobbyists. As rapporteur, I agreed with all groups on this. Yet, with influence on EU decisions comes responsibility towards all EU citizens affected by them, not just those who elect you. Therefore, local representatives should also follow basic integrity rules. One key principle is to separate political and economic power. Those who represent a mix of public and private interests, therefore, are lobbyists and should register. To name one example, “Frankfurt Main Finance” represents the cities of Frankfurt and Eschborn, the German state of Hesse and at the same time big banks. They obviously fall under the Register.
Another EU principle on lobbying enshrined in the transparency register is to make lobby influence transparent so that all affected EU citizens can know about it. The EU’s register is more comprehensive and closer to a mandatory system than those in most member states or their other levels of government. Local and regional governments could also consider making lobbying  at local level more transparent. Transparency International provides LobbyCal as a free and open source tool to make this possible at nearly no effort.
Therefore, AFCO stated* that local elected representatives as well as representations of national, regional and local governments should not fall under the EU lobby register if they act in the public interest, as they are part of the EU’s multi-level system of governance.
Both the European Commission and the Parliament are in favour of exempting local governments and their associations from the mandatory transparency register: to what extent do you believe that this particular point will be remembered during interinstitutional negotiations? 

The exact demand of paragraph 25 is one of many practical points not taken up by the lead negotiators Guillaume and Hübner for their mandate. Yet the close to unanimous decision by AFCO gives me much confidence that the Commission and the Council can agree on the Parliament’s formulation.
In the light of aims for an interinstitutional agreement covering the three institutions, in your view, how can the European Parliament’s legislative procedures contribute to a more open and transparent decision-making process, that respects the principle of subsidiarity and takes into account the views of European local and regional governments?

In my work on the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON) I experienced too often a lack of balance between the interests of those representing affluent interests and those who rather represent the general interest. As Greens, we therefore strive to make all lobby influence more transparent. The more lobbying is transparent, the more citizens can hold their representatives accountable as to how much they include all interests, including those of local and regional authorities. Beyond that, we have to set limits to what money is allowed to buy in our democracies.
How will the new transparency register arrangements shape the perception of the EU in the years to come?

Citizens and civil society demand more transparency. This is particularly true for the EU, as citizens perceive us as more distant than national and local authorities. Internet and digitalisation facilitate transparency. The negotiations about to start will determine if Europe can take the lead in this general development and regain trust from citizens as an exemplary reference point for other levels of government. EU institutions must not waste this opportunity.
What are your aspirations for the future of Europe?

To win back support for Europe, we have to give citizens a say in political decisions. Only a Europe that offers more participation has a future. If the EU does not come closer to citizens, the right-wing populists will capitalise further on this distance. European decision making has to become more transparent, in particular in the Council of Member States.

Recent victories of proud pro-Europeans such as GroenLinks in the Netherlands and Macron in France make me feel more optimistic. The German government could start by taking up the pro-European proposals of Macron to create a budget and a finance minister complementing the common currency. Making the finance minister fully accountable to the European Parliament and building an alliance with national parliaments can democratise the Eurozone. 
* AFCO adopted this paragraph 25: “[The European Parliament] Believes, with reference to Articles 4(2) and 5(2) of the TEU, that democratically elected and controlled state institutions at national, regional and local level and their representations towards the EU institutions, as well as their internal bodies and formal and informal associations and umbrella organisations composed exclusively thereof, should not fall under the EU transparency register if they act in the public interest, as they are part of the EU’s multi-level system of governance.”
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