Friday, November 09, 2007

A little light on a murky trade

The ECJ Court of First Instance has, according to EU Business "dealt a blow for better transparency". It has ruled against the EU Commission's attempts to use EU data privacy protection rules to justify withholding the names of lobbyists with whom it is in touch.

On the back of the commission's insidious funding of NGOs, this shot across the bows comes after complaint by The Bavarian Lager Co. Ltd, a UK-based importer of German beer, which wanted to know who had been invited to a stakeholder meeting related to the commission’s investigation of a possible violation of EU competition law.

In response, the commission stated that disclosure of the names of the lobbyists would "undermine the protection of the privacy and the integrity of the individual", something which the European Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, found unacceptable in July this year.

The commission, however, decided it knew better and continued a practice of blanking out of lobbyists' names in documents released under EU access to document rules.

The complaint to the Ombudsman had been brought in the Amsterdam-based EU lobby watchdog group, Corporate Europe Observatory, which had noted that the commission trade directorate-general, led by EU Commissioner Peter Mandelson, had started blanking out the names of industry lobbyists in correspondence, minutes of meetings and other documents released under EU access to document rules. The Ombudsman rejected this practice as "maladministration".

Now, with the Court of First Instance's judgement, the commission will have to release uncensored documents, allowing some insight into the murky world of EU lobbyists. This, we are told, will make it hard for lobbyists to justify not registering in the new EU lobbying disclosure database which EU Commissioner Siim Kallas is proposing to launch next spring as part of the "European Transparency Initiative".

What would then be rather useful is compulsory disclosure by lobbyists of any payments made by the commission itself, attached to each of the documents recording the presence of such lobbyists. Then we might just start getting some real transparency.


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