The Green Group in the European Parliament is lobbying hard for mandatory lobby registration. In order to prove that it is easy and manageable to register lobby meetings, the Greens have created their own lobby register, the LobbyCalendar or LobbyCal, where Members of the group are supposed to register all lobby meetings. I took a closer look at their lobby register, in To register or not to register? Lobby registration in the European Parliament. Taking a closer look at their register, one can only draw one of the following conclusions:
* Lobby registration does not work. If the people who say it is so important to register all lobby meetings deliver such poor results, it clearly does not work.
* The Greens lobby register shows they are nothing but hypocrites, as their campaign for transparency is only about scoring cheap political points by playing with people’s prejudices about politics in Brussels. It has nothing to do with accountability to their voters. If it did, they would actually care to register their meetings.
* There might actually be a value to register the meetings of politicians. Not to get a grip of lobbyism, but to ensure that the people we elect do their job. Because if the Greens are not lying and do not have more meetings than this, their laziness is the real scandal. Most MEPs that I work with have more lobby meetings in a week than the average Green MEP has had in the past five months.
In the first five months of 2017, the 51 Green MEPs registered a total of 319 lobby meetings. Taking into account individual meetings with more than one stakeholder registered twice, the number is 303. Some of those meetings are registered as meetings on staff level. But if we disregard that, the average Green MEP held a little over one meeting a month. Not exactly what I would call a busy schedule.
Lobbying is often portrayed as something shady and sometimes even undemocratic. But the right to petition and talk with your representatives is in fact an integral part of democracy. It is good, as more informed decision-makers lead to better decision-making. We should welcome and not fight the people that make this possible, the lobbyists. It is hard enough to get a meeting with a Member of the European Parliament, just ask anyone who ever tried. If we want EU legislation that work, we can’t create new barriers to contact legislators. We need more and better lobbying, not rules that make it harder to interact with elected representatives.
In recent years, the Green Group in the European Parliament has been lobbying hard for mandatory lobby registration. Sven Giegold is the Green poster boy for lobby transparency and is spearheading the own-initiative report on transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU Institutions. Giegold and the Greens demand that Members meet only with those interests that are pre-registered in the Transparency Register and that Members publish all scheduled meetings online. Readers of this blog know that I publish most of my meetings on my website. I do it because I want to, and because it gives my voters and others who are interested an impression of what I am doing. But it should be up to each and everyone themselves to decide if and how they want to disclose this information.
The whole idea of a lobby register as a tool for citizens to hold politicians accountable is preposterous. As legislators we should be held accountable for the proposals we make and the votes we cast regardless of whom we talk to. And if not even the Greens, who say it is so important to register lobbyist meetings and claim it is easy to do, register their meetings, lobby registration clearly does not work. And if it does not work, a lobby register will only mislead, not inform the public.
In an interview with Politico last year Giegold said that his “impression is that the fight for transparency is always welcome when it is about others, but not about yourself”. It is a bit ironic taking a look at the track record of the Greens’ own lobby registration. Or maybe he was just honest, talking about his own attitude to lobby registration.