Nearly 100 members of the European Parliament on Friday urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to step up her government’s transparency practices ahead of its presidency of the Council of the EU, which begins on July 1.
In a letter, they called on the German government to prioritize transparency of legislative policymaking in the Council and of lobbyist meetings with officials in Brussels and Berlin. It also demands the adoption of new rules and practices to prevent “excessive corporate influence,” and for the government to refuse all corporate sponsorships of its presidency.
The letter to Merkel was coordinated by watchdog NGOs Corporate Europe Observatory and LobbyControl and co-signed by 92 MEPs from left-leaning groups in the European Parliament including the Greens/European Free Alliance, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) plus plus the liberal/centrist Renew Europe.
Notably absent from the list are members of the Parliament’s largest political group, the European People’s Party — which houses members of Merkel’s own Christian Democrats.
“We as politicians serve the citizens of Europe, and they deserve to know what their elected officials are fighting for and who they are influenced by,” said one of the signatories of the letter, Marianne Vind (S&D). “Greater transparency is absolutely crucial to ensure democratic support for the European project.”
The German government did not respond to POLITICO’s request for comment.
Germany did not endorse a document published in January by Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Sweden and the Netherlands calling for the proactive publication of EU legislative documents — one of the new letter’s key demands.
Ahead of the presidency, the German permanent representative in Brussels and his deputy began proactively publishing a list of their lobby meetings. But the letter claims that this “likely reflects only a small percentage” of the overall number of lobby meetings held by German officials in Brussels, and “should be rapidly expanded to cover all meetings with lobbyists.”
It also urges Germany to champion inter-institutional negotiations on a joint mandatory Transparency Register for lobbyists, which restart on June 16. The Council is merely an observer of the existing voluntary register for lobbyists, which is jointly run by the Commission and the European Parliament.
The letter also identifies the “urgent” need to “adopt new rules and a new culture to prevent excessive corporate influence.”
And it calls on Germany to cancel its existing contracts for corporate sponsorship for its presidency, and “initiate a process in the Council to ban the practice for all future Presidencies.” As of January, Germany had signed “some smaller local business sponsorship contracts” aiming to promote “regional interests” during its presidency.
Critics claim the practice damages the EU’s reputation. Recent examples include Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Romanian presidency, and BMW’s sponsorship of the Finnish presidency. The current Croatian presidency has so far signed 16 sponsorship agreements, including with the country’s national oil company.
The Council in May told the European Ombudsman, in response to a complaint, that it would “explore the possibility” of providing best practice guidance on corporate sponsorships for countries holding the six-month rotating presidency.
“Meetings behind closed doors, minutes not publicly available, secret lobbying meetings and corporate sponsorship … in few other areas do the reality and self-perception of the EU diverge so much as in the lack of transparency in the Council,” said leftist MEP Martin Schirdewan.
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