More MEPs demand transparency after patent debacle

The European Independence Party claims that MEPs faced 'very aggressive' lobbying over the patent directive and wants professional lobbyists to reveal their funding

Europe's Independence/Democracy Group called for greater transparency among campaign groups on Tuesday following disingenuous lobbying over the software patent directive.

Last week, the Green Party said the interests and funding of lobby groups should be made public after what it termed a "deceptive" lobbying campaign over the directive, which was rejected by the European Parliament earlier this month.

The Independence/Democracy Group (IND/DEM), of which the UK Independence Party is a member, has now joined the calls for more transparency. Bent Andersen, an adviser to IND/DEM chairman Jens-Peter Bonde, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that all contact between lobby groups and MEPs should be made public and that there should be more information on the funding of such groups.

"We think that lobbying is OK, but every letter they write to members [of Parliament] should be put on the Internet so that everyone can see what they're doing — openness is important," said Andersen. "Also, all [information on] the salaries for those who are professional lobbyists should be public — so we can see who pays who for doing what."

Andersen described lobby groups involved in the patent directive as "very aggressive" and said it was difficult to see who the groups represented.

Most of the Independence Group's 35 MEPs share Bonde's view over a need for additional transparency, according to Anderson.

Not all MEPs agree that the lobby groups involved in the patent directive overstepped the mark. Baroness Sarah Ludford, an MEP from the UK Liberal Democrat party, said that lobby groups have a constitutional right to contact members of parliament.

"I don't really have complaints about the lobbying in itself. It was a bit overwhelming, but it is everyone's right to contact us. I just felt there was quite a lot of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, though I guess that happens on a lot of issues," said Ludford in an email.

Xavier Dutrent, who has been assistant to Socialist MEP Gilles Savary for five years, said that from his personal viewpoint the lack of transparency among lobby groups was not the main cause of the aggressive lobbying around the patent directive. Instead he believes the European Commission is not sufficiently receptive to the concerns of SMEs or organisations.

"I am not 100 percent convinced that the real issue is one of transparency," said Savary in an email. "Quite honestly, I think the real question lies somewhere else — how come the Commission always ends up defending arguments from big companies and has difficulties taking into account arguments put forward by smaller, or less organised, parts of society?"

"It might be a matter of lobbying (and then to some extent to money and fundraising). But I have the feeling that the question is a bit wider and is more a question of culture (within the Commission) and political leadership," he said.

Siim Kallas, the vice-president for Administrative Affairs, Audit and Anti-Fraud at the European Commission, recently launched the European Transparency Initiative to increase openness around EU institutions. This initiative also raises issues around the need for more transparency in lobbying, according to Kristian Schmidt, the deputy head of the administrative affairs cabinet.

Kallas has not investigated allegations of deceptive lobbying by groups campaigning around the patent directive, although they highlight the need for such an initiative, according to Schmidt.

"Mr Kallas has not looked into this issue in particular. If the stories conveyed in the press are true, it proves the point that this [the transparency initiative] is something that needs to be discussed. Mr Kallas is more interested in having an open discussion rather than focussing on a specific case," said Schmidt.

Although it was initially suggested that voluntary transparency around lobbying may be sufficient, transparency activists Lobby Control and Corporate European Observatory say that mandatory lobbying disclosure is needed. Schmidt said the EC is "not ruling out" making lobbying disclosure mandatory.