woensdag 23 januari 2013

Lobbying: A constitutional but fragile right

Lobbying, whether in the EU or any powercenter is always at the center of ethical debates. Sometimes, it is equated with corruption and anti-democratic practices. Nothing can be further from the truth. Lobbying is in fact an in-alienable constitutional right, safeguarded both in national constitutions (Dutch constitution, article 5, Right to petition) as well as in the European Lissabon Treaty (article 11, Treaty on the European Union).

Cash for Laws Scandal: Whats lobbying got to do with it?

In march 2011, a small number of MEP's accepted cash from journalist pretending to be lobbyist in return for putting forth amendments. The scandal, now known as the Cash for Law Scandal involved four MEP's, of which one is now being prosecuted. In the aftermath of the scandal, new stricter laws for acces to the EU were being drafted for lobbyist. I personally find this ludicrous; how can you pin the blame for a scandal where MEP's and journalists were involved on lobbyists? Lobbying involves monitoring the policy proces in all its fases, and providing both rational and political arguments in order to influence the outcome. Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. The two practices are a world apart. The misconception arises because lobbyists also operate behind closed doors, and will never lay public claims on policy outcomes. This "operating from the background" sometimes raises concern about the power of lobbyists to influence outcomes, but not be held accountable for them.

Let the people lobby

In a proposal by Dutch MP Lea Bouwmeester, Ministers would be obliged to rapport with which lobbyist they talked before proposing a law. There are three problems with the proposal. Firstly, its feasability.Will the Minister have to rapport to whome he spoke personally or does the obligation extend to the civil servants from his ministry. What if lobbyist talk to civil servants from other ministeries and they talk to the civil servants from the responsible ministry? Does the proposal only aim at private sector lobbyist or also lobbyist from local authorities? Besides, why hold the Minister to such high standards when most of the lobbying is being done in Parliament? Will Ms Bouwmeester also rapport with whome she speaks in Parliament? The second problem with the proposal is that in a democracy, parliament scrutinizes the government. Regardless if the Minister talked to lobbyist, any decision made is ultimately his responsibility. Blaming lobbyists for policy outcomes is downright childish and irresponsible. The third and most important reason is that while I am all for transperancy and honesty, we should be cautious about any attempt to restrict the constitutional, but fragile right to petition government. Because in the end, people, ngo's and businesses should be able to influence the laws that shape their everyday reality.

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