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Watchdog calls for tough new rules on lobbies in the EU

The EU urgently needs lobbying reform to stem the risk of corruption, Transparency International has said. The anti-graft organization has studied lobbying in 19 EU members and three EU bodies in a new report.

The European countries and institutions scored an average 31 out of 100 when measured against international lobbying standards, according to the Transparency International report published Wednesday in Brussels.

"Unfair and opaque lobbying practices are one of the key corruption risks currently facing Europe," Elena Panfilova, vice chair of

Transparency International, said in a statement

.

Out of 19 European Union members studied, Hungary and Cyprus came lowest in the ranking, scoring only 14, while Slovenia came out best with 55 points. The European powerhouse Germany only managed 23, placing it lower than Bulgaria, which has 25.

Mandatory registers for lobbyists

According to the watchdog, there are problems in dealing with pressures from many different industries, including the alcohol, tobacco, automobile, energy, financial and pharmaceutical sectors.

"European countries and EU institutions must adopt robust lobbying regulations that cover the broad range of lobbyists who influence - directly or indirectly - any political decisions, policies or legislation," Panfilova said.

"Otherwise, the lack of lobby control threatens to undermine democracy across the region."

Transparency International stressed the lack of public documentation of lobbyists and their targets, as well as their resources and purpose. Other concerns included failure to control the movement of personnel between government institutions and private enterprises.

Among other measures, the organization recommends mandatory registers of lobbyists in the entire EU.

USA ahead of Europe

Although the report did not study lobbying regulation in all 28 member states of the EU, the authors claim that "Europe lags behind Canada and the United States in this regard."

The European Commission scored 53 points in the Transparency report, placing it higher than the European Parliament with 37 points and the EU Council with 19.

Among the EU members included in the report, countries that were most burdened by the financial crisis - Cyprus, Italy, Spain, and Portugal - all placed near the bottom of the list.

'Multiple scandals' in Europe

However, even the highest ranking countries and institutions showed "gaps in regulatory coverage, loopholes and poor implementation of rules," Transparency International said. In addition, only seven countries - Austria, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and the United Kingdom - have legislation "specifically regulating lobbying activities".

"The vast majority of European countries reviewed have no comprehensive regulation of lobbying and no system in place to systematically record contacts between lobbyists and policy-makers," Transparency International said.

In Brussels, the seat of many EU institutions,

there are an estimated 30,000 lobbyists and special interest representatives

. "Multiple scandals throughout Europe" show that a "select number of voices" can come to dominate political decision-making, Transparency International said on their website.

dj/mz (AFP, Reuters)

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