The leading candidate of Europe’s conservatives is campaigning in the European elections with the promise of more transparency. But their own MEPs are torpedoing a vote to impose stricter rules on lobbyists in the EU Parliament. They want to vote on transparency, of all things, in secret.
Manfred Weber in the EU Parliament – All rights reserved European Union
Shortly before the European elections, the EU Parliament asks itself the crucial question: How are you doing with transparency?? At the end of January, the EU Parliament will vote on whether leading parliamentarians must disclose meetings with lobbyists in the future. The European People’s Party, to which the CDU and CSU belong, could torpedo a last-minute agreement. Because the deputies of parliamentary group leader Manfred Weber want to vote secretly on the new transparency rule of all things.
What it is about: On 31. January, the 750 members of the EU Parliament vote on new procedural rules. The Constitution Committee prepared the draft and added a rule in a close vote in December. According to the report, in future MEPs would only be allowed to meet lobbyists who are listed in the EU’s transparency register. Committee chairmen and MEPs who write draft legislation are to be subject to strict disclosure requirements. You must publish all scheduled meetings on the Internet, says article 11a of the report.
However, this does not please the conservatives in parliament. The European People’s Party decided at an internal meeting to force a secret ballot on the new transparency rules, according to a report by news site Politico. 20 percent of the MEPs in the plenum are enough for this, so the conservatives can decide this on their own. Secret votes are rare: Members of the EU Parliament almost always answer for their decisions with their names.
CDU politician: Transparency is nonsense
Among others, the CDU member of parliament Rainer Wieland had pushed for the secret vote. Mandatory disclosure of meetings with lobbyists is "bullshit" and a "bad decision," Wieland said in a phone call with netzpolitik.org: "If this comes, I will no longer make a single report."
The matter is inconvenient for Manfred Weber. The CSU politician is not only the leader of the Conservative group in the European Parliament, but also their top candidate in all of Europe. In the European elections, Weber is campaigning for more transparency, at least that’s what his campaign website says. But Weber is silent on the approaching vote. Despite several inquiries with his press spokesman, the top candidate refused to tell netzpolitik.org does not take a stand.
Officially, Weber’s European People’s Party (EPP) is not yet committed to voting for or against the new procedural rules. But a secret ballot gives their MEPs the chance to decide in favor of their own interests without voters:inside having to find out about it in the European elections. A rejection of the procedural rules seems likely as a result.
Shaking heads from NGOs and other parliamentary groups
Lobby watchdogs shake their heads at this. "It is completely incomprehensible how a political group that advocates for more transparency in public acts in the exact opposite way," said Vitor Teixeira of Transparency International. "Citizens have a right to know how their politicians vote"."
Other groups also criticize it. "With an EPP request for a secret ballot, the question is whether the group is afraid of its own voters," SPD MEP Jo Leinen tells netzpolitik.org.
"It is a bitter irony that it is precisely transparency that is to be voted on in secret," Green parliamentarian Sven Giegold also judges. "The deputies should stand by their opinion in a roll call vote. A secret ballot on transparency would be a farce, calling into question the reputation of the European Parliament."
Lobby battle over digital issues
The European Parliament has been a stomping ground for lobbyists for years. Hotly contested is for example the copyright reform. This one has companies like Youtube and Spotify on one side, music labels and other rights holders on the other. Billions at stake for both sides. In the race of vested interests, the voice of consumers is becoming virtually inaudible.
Rules on disclosure of lobby meetings already apply to the EU Commission. Through them, it becomes clear how much influence the corporations have in Brussels.
Internet corporations are particularly powerful in Brussels: according to an analysis by Transparency International, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have pushed their way into the top five most active lobbying firms in the EU. Since 2014, the EU Commission has recorded more lobby meetings on digital issues than on any other topic. Over the next few years, for example, lobby races on tougher data protection rules, artificial intelligence and self-driving cars can be expected.
The disparity between corporate and consumer power is evident in data protection: in the ePrivacy reform, the EU Commission met about ten times more corporate lobbyists than representatives of its customers, data protection officers and consumer associations. Transparency helps to make the imbalance visible. But this path is now apparently being willfully obstructed by the inaction of parliamentary group leader Manfred Weber.