After Washington, Brussels is estimated to be the largest city in the world with regards to number of interest groups, although the definitions of lobbying vary on these two continents.
The European Union seeks ways to encourage involvement of stakeholders - NGOs, civil society and business representatives - in the decision-making process, as part of the efforts to increase transparency. EU institutions regulate relations with lobbyists for transparency of governance and regulatory instruments. Since June 2011, the European Commission and the European Parliament have agreed on a unification procedure for the European Transparency Register. The Council is more favorable now to join the two institutions in the procedure as well.
At the European level there have been various debates about proposals for interest groups seeking to influence EU decision makers to disclose details of the budget and their methods of action allocated. The EU Transparency Register is part of a series of innovations designed to enhance transparency and openness in EU policymaking. Recently, the European Parliament approved stricter rules and asked the Commission to make it mandatory that companies involved in EU lobbying register until 2017.
Representatives of the Parliament and of the interest groups have repeatedly called for action to make the Transparency Register binding, but the measure requires the Member States approval. Although the European Commission has avoided the issue in recent months, MEPs call on the Commission to prepare a proposal before the end of 2016, which would make registration mandatory for lobbyists in Brussels.
While still light, the Registry, which entered into force in June 2011, has increased considerably. So far it counts about 6,000 entries, representing an estimated 75% of business representatives in Brussels and 60% of NGOs sites.
A number of organizations are involved in promoting transparency in European lobbying:
Ø European Public Affairs Consultancies' Association (EPACA). The organisation represents consulting firms carrying out lobbying to EU institutions, and has implemented a "code of conduct EPACA" that many companies based in Brussels have signed.
Ø A code of conduct was established by the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP) as well. SEAP is based on individual membership (consulting, professional associations and corporations), while EPACA is run by consulting companies themselves.
Ø The Transparency International - Liaison Office of the European Union (TI-UE) is an international non-profit organization based in Brussels, part of the global movement of Transparency International.
Ø The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) is a coalition of 200 organizations involved in monitoring corporate lobbying at European level.
Dan LUCA / Brussels