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Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Bundestag fights to keep lobbyists secret

Ben Knight
October 22, 2015

The German government parties will appeal against a court ruling ordering them to reveal their lobbyists in parliament. Critics say this is typical of Germany, which lags far behind other democracies on anti-corruption.


The German parliament has opted to fight to keep its lobbyists secret. A long-running lawsuit is going to be made even longer (and more expensive for German taxpayers), after it emerged on Thursday that the Bundestag administration is appealing against a court ruling that the names of lobbyists must be published.

The suit had been brought by Berlin-based watchdog Parliament Watch, which in April 2014 called on all four parliamentary parties to release the names of lobbyists that they had accredited to enter the Bundestag's offices. Unlike the publicly available list of lobbyists (over 2,000 organizations) who apply for a Bundestag pass via the parliamentary administration, the parties themselves are not obliged to release the lists of accreditations that they have approved.

While the two opposition parties (the Greens and the socialist Left party) released their lobby lists voluntarily last year, the two government parties (Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the center-left Social Democratic Party), refused - citing data protection concerns.

Hackmack (left) says the Bundestag is fighting its own lawsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

After an unsuccessful freedom of information act request, Parliament Watch filed a lawsuit at a Berlin court, which ruled in its favor in June this year. Four months later, the Bundestag has now decided to appeal the decision, after a vote by a "committee of parliamentary elders."

"You can see how much the Bundestag is struggling to follow its own laws," said Gregor Hackmack, co-head of Parliament Watch. "Even if you win on all counts, which we did in June, you still can't get them to implement the ruling."

Hiding the list

Not only that, Parliament Watch says the Bundestag's four-month hiatus between the verdict and the decision to appeal is a clear delaying tactic - and one driven predominantly by the CDU. In a statement released on Thursday, Parliament Watch said the CDU was hoping to stretch out the legal fight for as long as possible - preferably even until after the Bundestag election in September 2017.

Otherwise, Parliament Watch said, the government would be faced with publishing a list of "lobbyists to whom they have given open access to the German Bundestag, and then explaining to voters why they wanted to keep their identity secret so much."

When asked by DW, a CDU press spokeswoman would not comment on these accusations or the lawsuit in general, beyond saying that the party was awaiting the outcome of the appeal.

The SPD, meanwhile, was a little more forthcoming. In mid-October it did released its lobby lists for 2014 and 2015 after all - revealing that in 2015 it had accredited representatives from a number of major German firms. These included Lufthansa, Deutsche Telekom, energy giants RWE and EnBW, and military suppliers Rheinmetall and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. "If you read the list that the SPD has released, it's like a who's-who of major German companies," Hackmack told DW. "And they're not distributed fairly - you'll hardly find any citizens' initiatives or environmental organizations."

Despite its new transparency, the SPD still plans to support the appeal - for legal clarity, the party claims. "We consider it helpful to clear up this basic question of what information should be made public according to the freedom of information law," the party's parliamentary faction said in an emailed statement to DW.

Deutschland Volkswagen Martin Winterkorn
The VW scandal would never have been revealed in Germany, say criticsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Lübke

Germany: a developing country on transparency

For Hackmack, all this distraction and disguise is typical of Germany. "We're an absolute developing country when it comes to transparency and fighting corruption," he said. "We've only just ratified the UN convention against corruption, because for 10 years our parliamentarians refused to make bribery of parliamentarians a crime. There is no lobby register, as is standard in western democracies. Firms are allowed to donate to parties, which would be unthinkable even in the US, and parliamentarians are allowed to earn as much as they like outside the parliament. Put that altogether, and Germany doesn't look good when it comes to lobbyism, or what some would call corruption."

Not only this: Hackmack sees a direct connection between these lax regulations and major corporate scandals in Germany. "You can see in the VW scandal where all this can lead," he said. "That investigation and disclosure would not have happened in Germany, because politicians and the car industry are so tightly bound together - there's a non-aggression pact, so to speak. All the facts were known, but nothing was done. It took the strict anti-corruption rules in the US to make a difference."

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