Limassol, 15 April 2015 – Transparency International said today that Europe urgently needs lobbying reform. More specifically, the new report from Transparency International found that Cyprus needs to urgently address the lack of meaningful regulation in order to improve the state of lobbying and reduce the nearly unfettered influence of business interests on the daily lives of Cypriots.
Lobbying is any direct or indirect communication with public officials, political decision-makers or representatives for the purposes of influencing public decision-making, and carried out by or on behalf of any organised group.
The report aimed on examining lobbying practices across Europe and whether there are sufficient mechanisms allowing fair and equal access to decision-makers. Essentially, the new report by Transparency International, which is the first ever comprehensive report on lobbying in the region, studies how well political decision-making is protected from undue influence.
Across Europe, of the 19 countries assessed Slovenia came out at the top with a score of 55%, owing to the dedicated lobbying regulation in place, which nevertheless suffers from gaps and loopholes. Cyprus scored just 14% (out of 100 per cent) when measured against international lobbying standards and best practice in the report “Lobbying in Europe: Hidden Influence, Privileged Access”. The report highlights that the majority of countries at the centre of the financial crisis (Cyprus, Spain, Italy and Portugal) sit at the bottom of the table, together with Hungary. Cyprus and Hungary, ranking at the bottom with 14%, performed poorly in almost every area assessed, especially when it comes to access to information.
“The findings highlighted in the report are rather alarming. It seems that the problem is not just national, but one that affects all of the citizens. In order to reassure citizens across the region that decision-making is protected from undue influence, we need to draw on the good practices of other countries and devise measures that will effectively monitor lobbying practises”, said the Executive Director of Transparency International Cyprus, Nicolas Nicolaides.
Despite the fact that lobbying is an integral part of a healthy democracy, multiple lobbying scandals throughout Europe demonstrate that without clear and enforceable rules and regulations, a select number of voices with more money and insider contacts can come to dominate political decision-making – usually for their own benefit.
Especially after the collapse of the Cypriot financial sector and the scandals that saw the light of day regarding behind-closed-doors agreements, it became apparent that the practice of lobbying is rife and overly secretive, allowing thus for favouritism to sway public decision-making processes. Evidence from the report reveals that transparency in Cyprus is not guaranteed, and as a result, the legitimacy of public decision making is not at all guaranteed. It is noteworthy to point out that currently Cyprus remains the only country among the EU without a Freedom of Information legislation!
Revolving doors and vested interests in Europe
None of the European countries or EU institutions assessed adequately control the revolving door between public and private sectors, with members of parliament mostly being exempt from post-employment restrictions and “cooling-off periods”, despite being primary targets of lobbying activities. In Cyprus this is a major problem as the system fails to effectively prohibit MPs and other high-ranking officials from taking up key positions if they have a conflict of interest. In order to be able to maintain public integrity and trust in the government, revolving door regulation aiming to prevent real or perceived conflicts of interests should be streamlined with lobbying regulation.
In addition, Cyprus should introduce stricter rules as regards conflicts of interest in order to assist with the identification of such conflicts in time. This would ensure that the decisions of appointed and elected officials are not biased or affected by any self-interest. By avoiding situations that could potentially create real and/or apparent conflict of interests for officials, citizens would be reassured that lobbying is conducted in the highest ethical manner.
The regional report makes several recommendations to ensure lobbying does not lead to corruption. According to the findings of the report, all countries and EU institutions must:
- Adopt lobbying regulation that is broad and comprehensive – capturing all who engage in lobbying activities as well as all key lobbying targets.
- Establish mandatory registers of lobbyists, recording detailed information on clients lobbyists represent, who lobbyists target, and with what resources they seek to influence which decisions.
- Ensure a “legislative footprint” is established to track and publish which external input has influenced legislation as well as what contact between lobbyists and public officials has taken place.
- Focus on the implementation of “cooling-off periods” before former public and elected officials can work in lobbying positions that may create or be seen to create conflicts of interest.
All those seeking to influence public policy must:
- Proactively publish information on their advocacy and lobbying activities and expenditure, as well as on their political contributions and involvement.
Transparency International – Cyprus (TI-C) is the national contact organization of Transparency International and it is a non-governmental, politically independent and non-for-profit organization which aims to combat corruption.
For more information about lobbying in Cyprus and the full report please visit us at http://www.transparencycyprus.org/lobbying/
 Greece was not in the cohort of countries reviewed for the current report.