Since the Qatargate scandal erupted a couple of months ago, lobbying in the EU institutions has once more found itself under scrutiny. The EU Transparency Register is the Commission, Council and Parliament’s flagship tool to allow European citizens to see what interests are being represented, on whose behalf, and the financial and human resources dedicated to it. This article will guide you through the requirements of the Transparency Register, an essential instrument to have your voice heard by EU lawmakers.
What is the Transparency Register?
The Transparency Register is a database that lists organisations that try to influence the law-making and policy implementation process of the EU institutions. The register makes visible what interests are being pursued, by whom and with what budgets.
Who must register?
Any organisation that intends to influence the EU policies, legislations and/or decision-making processes must register. That includes companies, business associations, trade unions, NGOs, research institutions, consultancies, think tanks, religious organisations etc. This means that in addition to industry players, the EU institutions recognise that activists also lobby for their interests and seek to influence the legislative process. Lobbying activities encompass (not exhaustively):
- organising or participating in meetings, conferences or policy events
- participating in consultations or hearings
- organising communication campaigns, platforms, networks or grassroots initiatives
- preparing or commissioning policy and position papers, amendments, opinion polls, surveys, etc.
It is important to keep in mind that the aim of the Transparency Register is to show organised and/or collective interests, not personal interests of individuals. It’s also worth noting that activities that do not seek to influence, but rather to follow or monitor EU law or policy are not required to register.
Is it mandatory?
It is mandatory for interest representatives’ organisations to be in the Transparency Register if they want to:
- request access authorisations to European Parliament premises
- be invited to speak at Parliament’s committee hearings
- be able to participate in intergroups and other unofficial groupings activities organised on Parliament premises
- meet the Secretary-General and Directors-General of the General Secretariat of the Council
- participate in thematic briefings for interest representatives organised by the General Secretariat of the Council
- participate as speakers in public events organised by the General Secretariat of the Council
- meet Commissioners, members of their cabinets and Directors-General of the Commission. In practice, this means that you are always asked for your Transparency Register Identification number before meeting a commissioner or a member of his/her cabinet.
- be invited to join Commission expert groups
According to the statistics page of the Transparency Register, as of 3rd April 2023, there are 12,118 organisations in the Transparency Register.
As we can see in the graph below, the greatest share of registered organisations are NGOs with 3,360 registrants followed by companies with 2,991 registrants. If we break the numbers down another way, we can see that 67% of organisations represent their own interests, while 28% do not represent commercial interests and 5% are advancing the interests of their clients. This difference is explained by the fact that the category, “organisations representing their own interests” aggregates actors such as companies, business associations and trade unions.
Which information must be entered?
An important thing to stress is that all information put in the Register is public and accessible by any person with an internet connection. The information is provided by the registrants themselves, and they are ultimately responsible for its accuracy.
An annual update is mandatory, but the information should be updated whenever relevant. Registrants who fail to do their annual update on time are suspended from the Register. All registrants had to update their entries in April 2022 in line with a new Transparency Register agreement. This means that all those annual updates are coming due and those that missed the deadline are being called out. Even if the list of suspended entries is updated daily, it has significantly expended in the last weeks with new names such as the International Chamber of Commerce or the University of Westminster.
Depending on the kind of interests your organisation represents, you do not have to enter the same financial information to the Register.
|Mandatory financial information for everyone|
|1. Most recent financial year closed: may not coincide with a calendar year |
2. EU grants: amount and source (relevant programme and funding authority) of any EU grants contributing to their operating costs.
|Represent own interests or collective interests of your members|
Companies, business associations, trade unions
|Represent the interests of your clients |
Consultancies, law firms
|Do not represent commercial interest |
NGOs, foundations, academic and research institutions, think tanks, churches
|1. Any intermediary hired to carry out covered activities (names and associated annual cost) |
2. Your annual costs in relation to covered activities by the Register: staff costs, office and administrative expenses, in-house operational expenditure, representation costs, outsourced activity costs, membership and related fees
|1. Your clients (names and associated revenues and legislative proposals, policies or initiatives for each client) |
2. Your total annual revenues. (PS: The Register automatically calculates this amount on the basis of the aggregate sum of the estimated revenue generated per client.)
|1. Your main sources of funding by category: EU funding, (national) public financing, grants (including EU grants), donations and members’ contributions. You can select several categories. |
2. The amount of each contribution above €10 000 exceeding 10 % of your total budget and the name of the contributor
3. The total budget for the most recent financial year closed: entire budget (not only funds for activities covered by the Register).
These different requirements have attracted criticism. While some argue that NGOs should be under tighter scrutiny others argue, on the contrary, that companies and business associations observe fewer transparency obligations than non-for-profit organisations and often bypass them. In the aftermath of the Qatargate scandal, in which NGOs were used as a cover to bribe and carry out non-transparent lobbying, the EPP Group called for a financial pre-screening of NGOs before they are listed in the transparency register and the publication of contractual agreements between NGOs and the European Commission. To which Iratxe García Pérez
One option is to introduce equal transparency register requirements for all organisations, allowing for a fairer comparison between actors. This would lead to more transparent lobbying practices in Brussels, in alignment with why the Register was established two years ago.
In any case, lobbying is much more than having a Transparency Register Identification number for your organisation. Being registered is only the first step to have access to EU institutions. As a Brussels-based consultancy, Lykke Advice can help you navigate the EU bubble. We have experience in identifying how upcoming legislation might affect your organisation and then building a lobbying strategy to reach your advocacy goals. Please contact us if you would like to know more about our services and influencing the political process to ensure that legislation benefits your interests.