At their 1085th meeting (26 May 2010), the Ministers’ Deputies of the Council of Europe decided to communicate Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1908 (2010) on “Lobbying in a democratic society (European Code of conduct on lobbying)”Note to GRECO for information and possible comments. At its 48th Plenary meeting (27 September – 1 October 2010), GRECO adopted the following comments with a view to their transmission to the Committee of Ministers:
1. GRECO notes with interest the call of the Parliamentary Assembly to elaborate a European code of good conduct on lobbying, considering that unregulated, secret lobbying may undermine democratic principles and good governance. GRECO concurs with the Assembly when it stresses, in paragraph 9 of its recommendation, that greater transparency of lobbying activities can make political and economical players more accountable and restore public confidence in government authorities' democratic functioning.
2. Bearing in mind that there is not much regulation available on lobbying in its member states, GRECO welcomes paragraph 11 of the recommendation which invites the Committee of Ministers to elaborate a code of conduct including, inter alia, a clear definition of lobbying; measures to ensure transparency; rules for politicians and civil servants as well as members of pressure groups and the business sector; and foreseeing the registration of lobbying entities. The recommendation thus takes due account of the fact that the phenomenon of lobbying involves two sides, the lobbyist and the elected representatives and other officials who are lobbied (there may, however, be more actors involved).
3. GRECO wishes to draw attention to the Programme of action against corruption as adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 21 November 1996 [GMC (96) 95], according to which the establishment and implementation of rules drawing the line between lobbying and corrupting should be encouraged. As was stressed in the Programme of action against corruption, lobbying is not in itself something evil but the role of lobbyists is of a sensitive nature as the borderline between exertion of influence (which is legal) and trading in influence (which in many countries is illegal) is not always easy to distinguish. Against this background, GRECO is convinced that the drawing-up of a European code of conduct on lobbying would also be beneficial for the fight against corruption. In particular, the objective of establishing a precise definition of lobbying may assist countries in dealing with the issue of trading in influence and in better preventing conflicts of interest, for example, in respect of persons moving from the public to the private sector and vice versa (“revolving doors”), a well known feature of the “lobbying industry”.
4. GRECO has not yet devoted any of its evaluation rounds specifically to the issue of lobbying. That said, in the context of its forthcoming 4th Evaluation Round which is devoted to “Corruption prevention in parliamentary assemblies, the judiciary and among other actors of the pre-judicial and judicial process” existing standards of conduct for members of parliamentary assemblies vis-à-vis lobbyists and lobbying will also be assessed. Moreover, it should be recalled that the High-level conference held on the occasion of GRECO’s 10th Anniversary (5 October 2009) included a round table debate on future challenges and emerging subject areas. In this context the issue of “lobbying and corruption” was discussed and it was concluded that this topic would clearly merit more attention in the future.
5. In the light of what has been stated above, there is clearly a growing demand in Europe and elsewhere for the establishment of regulatory frameworks in respect of lobbying. The elaboration of a European code of conduct in lobbying therefore appears very timely and GRECO stands ready to provide assistance as appropriate, in particular by duly monitoring the implementation of provisions relevant to the fight against corruption that might be contained in a possible legal instrument adopted in pursuance of the Assembly’s recommendation.