Lobbyists vs lawyers in the fields of EU transparency

Although cooperation and compromise are the norm in EU policy-making, the European Commission’s wish to strengthen its disclosure and transparency regime has pitted lobbyists and lawyers against each other in the fields of Schuman Roundabout and Place Luxembourg. The reason? Lobbyists want the system reformed to cover lawyers engaged in lobbying activities, who are currently not required to disclose meetings with senior Commission Officials.

Lawyers are citing, legitimately, confidentiality rules by their respective national associations, noting that disclosure could lead to their disbarment. There is a level of agreement, however, even among the legal profession, that this gives them a clear market advantage over lobbyists.

Other countries, such as the US, have managed to get around this problem by forcing lawyers who engage in lobbying activities to disclose their clients, but maintain confidentiality for purely legal work. Although this system is far from perfect, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction. As reported by Politico, similar rules have recently been introduced by the French bar association.

As the European Commission’s transparency register is likely to be expanded to include the Parliament and the Council, the time is right for this issue to be addressed. Indeed, some lawyers are already in favour of rules requiring disclosure of their lobbying activities, as this would be to the benefit of the profession, helping isolate the more ‘shady’ elements of the sector.

Aware of the usual misconception of omnipotence and ‘back room deals’ that often portrays lobbyists as ‘running the show’ in political decision-making, the lobbying profession has been a strong supporter of transparency. Shedding more light would dispel a number of myths surrounding the industry and go some way in showcasing that lobbying is but a by-product of democracy. It is often said that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’ and that expression could not apply better to another sector. But sunlight would have to cover all practitioners, or risk creating image distortions and unwanted patches of shadow in the process.