Striving towards greater transparency is a necessity, following the “Qatargate” scandal. But it must apply to everyone, including NGOs and foundations, according to Paul Varakas, president of the Society of European Affairs Professionals (SEAP).
In an interview with EURACTIV, Mr Varakas explains that while most Brussels-based NGOs are listed in the EU Transparency Register, more attention should be paid to the source of their funding.
“ If you are a business entity, whether you lobby internally or through a professional organization, it is pretty obvious that your money comes from your profits […] it is not surprising that the professional car organization is financed by the sales of car manufacturers”, he explained.
However, the problem of transparency arises with associations and NGOs whose funding is at several levels.
“There are NGOs that say their funding comes from foundations inside or outside of Europe, but the donors behind these foundations are often not known,” said Mr. Varakas.
“ We need to understand who is the funder of your activities in Brussels ”, he pointed out. In addition, some NGOs often lobby on specific topics that are related to commercial interests, he added.
Similar issues have arisen with some consulting firms over the past decade.
The debate on increasing the transparency of European lobbying intensified after the Qatargate scandal, in which the NGO “ Fight Impunity ” played a key role. This NGO, which belongs to the former Italian MEP Pier-Antonio Panzeri, was not listed in the EU transparency register.
Referring to the new rules of the European Parliament currently under discussion, Mr. Varakas indicated that European lobbyists who comply with the rules “should not be penalized” for the illegal behavior of certain entities and certain MEPs.
“ Confidence must be restored as soon as possible and the new rules must be adopted in a transparent manner ”, he said. He also added that the lack of public debate and the fact that everything is currently discussed only in closed meetings does not bode well.
According to Varakas, based on the information disclosed so far, there are some positive elements, including the fact that MEPs only meet with entities listed in the Transparency Register.
He also welcomes the fact that former MEPs – likely to work in the private sector at the end of their parliamentary mandate – will not benefit from automatic access to the premises of the European Parliament in order to meet their former colleagues there. On the contrary, they will have to declare the precise reasons for holding their meetings as well as mentioning the fact that they are former deputies.
But Mr. Varakas to moderate: “ in the proposal, for example, there is a kind of obligation to justify the reason for which you enter the premises of the European Parliament. It is a good idea but, in practice, the lobbying will continue outside the walls of Parliament,” he explained.
“We have to strike the right balance in pushing for more transparency, but if you are a lobbyist on the Transparency Register and subject to many transparency requirements, you should be free to conduct your business in Parliament. “, he concluded.