Defining lobbyists and regulating lobbying in Europe
This Anti-Corruption Helpdesk brief was produced in response to a query from one of Transparency International’s national chapters. The Anti-Corruption Helpdesk is operated by Transparency International and funded by the European Union.
First, if NGOs are attempting to influence decision making, should their attempts to influence decision-making be systematically logged, either by themselves as “lobbyists” or by the targets of their lobbying (politicians and public officials)?
Second, should business associations likewise be included in such lobbying registers? What is the prevalent practice in the EU on these two questions, and what constitutes good practice?
In Lithuania, there are currently heated discussions ongoing regarding changes to the lobbying law, and both NGOs and business associations are determined to fight for exemption.
- Background: the European lobbying industry
- Broadly defining lobbyist
- Country examples
- Further reading
- Appendix: Lobbying regulations in selected countries
In the wake of a series of political scandals around lobbying over the last few years, several European countries have begun to introduce measures to address the integrity risks inherent in lobbyists’ unrestricted access to public officials. One of the main mechanisms to regulate the lobbying industry is the introduction of mandatory registers for lobbyists.
Arguing that the reporting requirement would be excessively onerous, some interest groups are attempting to seek exemptions, portraying their activities as advocacy, public affairs or interest representation, rather than lobbying. This query considers two types of organisations which may argue for exemption – NGOs and business associations – making the case for their inclusion in comprehensive regulatory regimes and considering country examples to identify best practices.
Given business associations’ continued market share in the lobbying industry, their general preference for opacity and the risks of undue influence where private enterprise wields disproportionate clout, it is vital that they are covered by lobbying regulations. Likewise, NGOs have also become major players in the lobbying game, devoting significant financial and human resources to lobbying and advocacy activities. Moreover, it may be relatively simple for an interest group to establish an NGO to act as front for its lobbying activities, while disguising its source of funding.
An overview of current practice in Europe finds that most definitions of lobbyist tend to be confined to consultant lobbyists, rather than covering all those who attempt to influence public policy, as is the case in North America.
Matthew Jenkins, [email protected]