By François Nicolle.
An article by The Conversation
On 9 December 2016, the law on transparency, the fight against corruption and the modernization of economic life, known as Sapin II, was promulgated. The result of a long process, its ambition, in addition to promoting the transparency of public decision-making, is to define a framework for lobbying in France.
Transparency is defined as "The extent to which information is available to outsiders who enable them to have an informed voice in decisions and / or to evaluate decisions made by insiders". (Ann Florini, Visiting Professor, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland)
A recent step
For 30 years, transparency has been the subject of many laws in France. 1988 marks the beginning of this policy with the law on the transparency of political life and the financing of parties. A register of representatives of interests in Parliament is created in 2009, then the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life is introduced.
But it is only in 2016, 70 years after the American Lobbying Act, that France has a framework for defining the practice of interest representatives. The ambition is displayed by President François Hollande during his wishes to the Constituencies and the offices of the Assemblies of 20 January 2015: "To make the making of laws and regulations even clearer, better lobbying is needed. This is a building site that will be opened this year. Citizens will know who has intervened, at which level, with public decision makers, to improve, correct, modify a reform, and what were the arguments used.
This text allows a definition of the representatives of interests. They can be independent or practice within an organization. Their main or regular activity is to communicate with public officials in order to influence public decisions. Anyone whose activity is devoted more than 50% to actions of interest representation or who has completed more than 10 interest representation actions in the last 12 months must register on a directory of representatives of interests created by the Sapin II law. The latter is under the authority of the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life and accessible on its website.
The representatives declare there:
- their identity;
- the organization for which they work;
- the interests or entities they represent;
- actions falling within their area of competence, specifying the amount of expenditure related thereto;
- professional or trade union organizations or associations related to the represented interests to which they belong.
Failure to maintain this directory leads to penalties of up to one year's imprisonment and a fine of € 15,000. As of February 11, 2019, the directory includes 1,764 representatives of interests and 6,669 activities.
However, some observers consider that the HATVP directory is not sufficient to understand public decisions. In fact, neither the resources allocated nor the public decision targeted for each interest representation action are specified. Finally, the scope of the register is limited. Some public decision-makers and representatives of interests are not concerned by the repertoire. The Sapin II law also imposes a code of ethics for the representatives of interest.
In Brussels, an incentive policy
A similar register exists at European level. It was created in 2011 through a collaboration between the European Parliament and the European Commission. In the same logic as the French repertoire, it is a question of identifying the representatives of interests and their attempts to influence the public decision.
In 2014, an institutional agreement validates this register and proposes incentive mechanisms to interest representatives for their registration. Facilitating access to Parliament buildings, permission to organize events in the premises, or better information to those who register for Parliament and the Commission.
This registry is optional, and compiles a lot of information. Name of the entity, the category of the entity (NGO, cabinet, etc.), the contact details, the person in charge, the person in charge of relations with the EU, the objectives and tasks of the organization, the specific activities covered by the register, the number of persons participating in the activities, the persons accredited to access the European Parliament buildings, the areas of interest, the compositions and affiliation of the organization, and financial data including an estimate of the annual costs associated activities covered by the register.
In 2016, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Europe proposed an interinstitutional agreement to strengthen this register of transparency. For the time being, the Council of Europe is not equipped with any such device.
2019, a big step forward for transparency
On 31 January, the European Parliament adopted a reform of its rules of procedure. One of the central topics of this vote is a series of amendments favoring the transparency of lobbying. Some of the deputies asked for a secret ballot, which seems paradoxical for a theme of transparency.
Among the amendments favoring the transparency of this text, two seem major:
- a incentive to register on the register of interest representatives. Members can only meet the representatives of interests registered on the register. Only registered interest representatives may participate in the activities of an intergroup or activities of an informal grouping in Parliament's premises.
- the publication by the deputies of their agenda. They must indicate all scheduled meetings with interest representatives who fall within the scope of the register. In addition, for each report, all these meetings with interest representatives are published.
But this last type of influence is one of the most, if not the most, used by lobbyists. For example, in France, on the case of the law putting an end to the research and exploitation of conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons (coal, oil, gas) and carrying various provisions relating to energy and the environment, they represent 33.51% of the interest representation shares used (study of the author to be published).
The publication of meetings between public authorities and representatives of interests is therefore a great opportunity for transparency.
A guarantee of citizen control
For several years, confidence in politics has been sluggish, less than 30% to the government, the National Assembly or the European Union. This mistrust is explained in particular by the moral hazard: the public representatives can apply a policy opposite to that for which they were elected. Many misunderstandings about public decisions also erode this trust in its representatives. Recently the resignation of Nicolas Hulot, or the renewal of the authorization of use of the glyphosate have highlighted the role of the lobbyist, and the need for transparency in the public decision-making.
To promote this transparency, and play a role of facilitator of citizen control, associations and companies are surfing the development of digital technology. This is the "civic tech". France is fertile ground for these projects. Let's mention Make.org, RegardsCitoyens, or Arcadie Project. International initiatives are also active in France with, for example, Transparency.org or Change.org.
Regards Citoyens proposes several initiatives like NosDéputés.fr on which we can see the presence in the assembly of the deputy of our constituency, his proposed and voted amendments, his responsibilities, his contact, his questions to the government or his parliamentary productions (reports, proposed laws). A study on lobbying is also proposed by this association, allowing to see the people auditioned in each sector of activity, to better understand the influences exerted on a public decision.
Opening lobbying data allows different actors to analyze and disseminate this knowledge. For example, the research community uses the repertoire of interest representatives to understand the balance of power exercised over public decisions. Accessible data is an essential source of information for many stakeholders whose role is to inform the citizen as much as possible about the public decision-making process.
The new European policy therefore marks a shift towards greater transparency. From now on, the question we can ask ourselves is whether, a few months before the European elections, this measure will be enough to restore confidence between citizens and the Brussels institutions.
François Nicolle, Teaching Assistant-Researcher ICD Paris, Propedia
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.