Public consultation for a mandatory transparency register. New Commission, same game, new rules?

On 1 March, the European Commission launched a 12-week public consultation for a mandatory transparency register. The Commission is seeking the views of all interested parties on the performance of the current Transparency Register for lobbyists – or “interests representatives” – involved in EU policy-making and policy implementation and on its future evolution towards a mandatory scheme for the three institutions: European Parliament, Council of the EU and European Commission. The first open and structured dialogue between the Commission and special interest groups started in 1993 but the “Proposal for a new European Transparency Initiative” came only in 2006. In 2008, the first version of the Commission’s Register of Interest Representatives was launched by the Commission and three years later, it was also adopted by the European Parliament.  The consultation is based on the European Commission’s willingness to become more transparent. In line with the Transparency Initiative introduced in November 2014, the Commission now wants to make it mandatory and extend it to the Council. Responding to the need for change in Europe, does this move illustrate a new way of making policy?

Better regulation: less regulation, more consultation

The planned changes to the Transparency Register are part of a broader commitment to reforming EU policy making. It shows that the Commission is open to public participation in the process and, as Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said, “this Commission is changing the way we work by consulting stakeholders more and by being open about who we meet and why”. In its Better Regulation Agenda presented last year, the Commission committed to opening up its policy making process to further public scrutiny and input. New stakeholder feedback mechanisms have already been set up, so that views can be made known to the Commission from the very start of the preparation of an initiative based on roadmaps and inception impact assessments, as well as after a proposal is adopted by the Commission, in order to feed into the legislative process in the Parliament and Council.

Bringing more transparency

The public consultation is also a first step towards fulfilling the promise made by Juncker before he became Commission President, when he said that “we need to be more transparent. The transparency register should be mandatory and applied to all institutions”. A year after the last reform of the register, the Commission now wants to move to the next level with the consultation. Since the start of his mandate, Juncker has been working on the lack of transparency of and within the EU, especially after the “Dalli case” in the last Commission. As such, Juncker has imposed the rule that Commissioners should only meet with registered organisations, which has led to a significant increase in the number of registrations. Besides this, the Commission is not only trying to be more transparent regarding its meetings with lobbyists, but has also  started to slowly extend these efforts to some of its activities, notably trade, which have traditionally been quite opaque. The strong popular opposition towards Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) convinced the Commission that it was necessary to publish parts of the negotiation documents on its website.

Too early to see the results

In general, it is too early to assess whether the Juncker’s Commission and the new way of working will bring a better implementation of its policies in Europe, but we can see efforts being made to improve the European Commission’s efficiency and transparency as well as to take into account input from citizens and stakeholders. Concerning the transparency register, the Commission has made it a priority in its 2016 work programme to make it a mandatory system and to expand it to the Council of the EU. Member States welcome the idea of joining the lobbying disclosure registry, but not all of them favour a mandatory system and some would like to keep national permanent representations out of the agreement. Negotiations between the institutions will certainly not be easy.