Transparency Register: a new horizon for EU law and policy-making
The European Commission and the European Parliament are launching a new common ‘register’ to monitor all organisations and self-employed individuals engaged in EU policy-making and policy implementation. The decision affects thousands of Brussels-based organisations which interface with the EU Institutions.
On 11 May the European Parliament approved the joint Commission/Parliament inter-institutional agreement for the establishment of a new common ‘Transparency Register’, thereby creating the conditions for its forthcoming launch.
Until now the Parliament and the Commission each had their own separate registers. The Parliament one featured more of a schematic framework, registration was strictly linked with the issuing of EP access badges and the requested information was minimal. The Commission one, introduced in 2008, had a more political flavour, a broader scope and a more detailed approach: the aim was that of mapping the landscape of ‘interest representatives’ (according to the wording chosen) liaising with the Commission. Registration brought about some advantages, in particular with regard to the higher value attached to contributions received from a registered organisation, as opposed to those submitted by non-registered ones.
The Commission’s Register raised doubts and provoked rather widespread negative reactions from a number of entities, especially from law firms, think-tanks, Churches, as well as from some NGOs. The simplistic, rather rigid one-size-fits-all system proposed by the Commission was perceived as a sign of insensitivity to the different natures of the entities involved. A number of subjects felt that the inclusion in a ‘big box’ concerning lobbyists (a term that in many countries has a negative connotation) or even representatives of mere ‘interests’ (a terminology too frequently interchangeable with that of ‘lobbying’ at the EU level in the last few years) did not respect their identities and self-understanding. The wording was also used extensively in the main parts of the Register - e.g. code of conduct, website.
Why the new Register is a success
The main improvement resides in the name of the new Register. A name hinging on the magic word ‘transparency’ refers to the main goal of the instrument, while at the same time creating a neutral and inclusive enough registration setting for any organisation that would enter it. No entity should have any difficulty in being associated with an important objective like transparency. On the other hand, as the Commission has come to appreciate in the last three years, many subjects can have legitimate and well-founded reservations to being associated with the lobbying/interest representation domain. The subtitle of the Register positively takes the same direction as that of the name.
The language used in the new Register and in the relevant inter-institutional agreement (including the new code of conduct) finally sheds any reference to lobbying/interest representation.
The structure of the new Register also creates a visible separation between entities having a commercial nature, including lobbyists and interest representatives (first part of the Register) and entities of a non-commercial nature and not belonging to the lobbying/interest representation sector (second part - which includes Churches’ representations). Distinct ‘sections’ concern different entities - while the old Commission’s Register referred to mere ‘(sub)categories’ - and a solid dividing line virtually splits the Register into two conspicuously separate parts.
As for Churches and their representations, the Commission and the Parliament successfully integrated their identity and self-understanding into the Register. While a separate Register would have been a perfectly appropriate solution (and would have found a clear basis in the special consideration reserved to Churches and their organisations by Article 17 TFEU) the two EU Institutions have brokered a satisfactory and fully acceptable compromise. Organisations representing Churches and religious communities can register in Section V. Churches as such are, on the contrary, not concerned by the Register and are not covered by the instrument.
Transparency is valued by the Catholic Church as an important element of a democratic society. The establishment of the new Transparency Register should therefore be saluted as a step in the right direction from which all actors involved and EU citizens will benefit. However, the launch of the new Transparency Register is just a starting point and not an end in itself. It will now be a challenge reserved to the EU Institutions to make sure that in the coming years the instrument will become an essential tool in the EU integration process rather than an additional bureaucratic appendage.