Conservatives in the European Parliament reveal lobbyist meeting details

BRUSSELS: The Conservatives in the European Parliament (EP) have delivered on their pledge to publish details of their MEPs’ meetings with lobbyists, uploading a 54-page document to the party’s website.

Timothy Kirkhope
Timothy Kirkhope

The publication of this first listing – which covers the period between between 1 January and 30 June 2010 – comes almost 18 months after a commitment in the Conservatives’ manifesto for last year’s European elections that all the party’s MEPs would ‘publish online details of all meetings with lobbyists and interest groups’ (PAN, June 09).
The term ‘lobbying contact’, as defined by the Tories in the EP, means any ‘formal, pre-arranged meeting between a lobbyist and Conservative MEP’. The information published lists the MEP’s name, the meeting date, the name of the lobbyist(s), their organisation (and clients, if applicable) and the ‘context’. The latter is typically a one-sentence précis, such as ‘import of red meat from Australia into the EU’, or ‘meeting re trade issues in satellite operators sector’.
The 54-page document reveals a disparity in the regularity with which the Tories’ 25 MEPs – who are led by Timothy Kirkhope, and part of the 54 MEP-strong ‘European Conservatives and Reformists Group’– meet lobbyists (see PAN’s ordering - lower down this page).
Giles Chichester, Syed Kamall and Malcolm Harbour are among the MEPs most regularly in contact with lobbyists, but two of the Tories’ MEPs – Sir Robert Atkins and Dan Hannan – have listed zero meetings.
The listing, which the Conservatives have titled their ‘Lobbying Contacts Report’, can be found by clicking on the ‘transparency’ tab on the front page of the website www.conservativeeurope.com.
The EP Tories also pledged last year that their MEPs would ‘only accept hospitality from lobbyists and interest groups where it is relevant to the role of an MEP, and where this is of a value greater than £50, it will be listed in the Register of Members’ Interests. No Conservative MEP will accept gifts from lobbyists or interest groups’.
A spokesman for the EP Tories told Public Affairs News this week that MEPs would be “updating their individual ‘declaration of financial interest’ forms in the coming months”.
The spokesman said that the threshold for declaration had, however, been increased from £50 to £100. He said: “Attending a lunch with an organisation is one form of lobbying contact that enables MEPs to meet lobbyists in between committee or plenary sessions. However, to provide Members with peace of mind – and to save them the embarrassment of asking their hosts how much a meal has cost – it was thought best to raise this amount to £100 so that MEPs could be sure that they were in compliance with this policy. This also reflects the fluctuating exchange rate between the pound and the euro.”
In respect of the publication of the Lobbying Contacts Report, Kirkhope told Public Affairs News: “Conservative MEPs were the first British delegation in the European Parliament to publish details of our allowances and expenses. Now we are the first to publish details of contact that we have received from lobbyists and to lay down a clear policy on hospitality and gifts.
“Lobbying can be very useful to the functioning of the European Parliament, particularly when MEPs are attempting to gauge the impact of policies on specific sectors. Our code brings additional transparency to the process so that our constituents can see who we have been meeting from the lobbying world.”
Public Affairs News has ploughed through the 54-page document to produce the table (below) showing the number of lobbyists met by each Tory MEP in the first six months of the year.
Asked about the two MEPs who declare zero meetings with lobbyists, the EP Tories’ spokesman told PAN that Sir Robert Atkins would be adding a note to his form, reading: ‘Sir Robert Atkins’ primary role is as a member of the foreign affairs committee and such extra-parliamentary contacts as are made by him are by foreign governments and agencies. Under the ‘policy on transparency regarding lobbying’ published by the [EP Conservatives] delegation in January 2010, such meetings are not classified as ‘lobbying’.”
The other ‘zero lobbyist meetings’ MEP, Daniel Hannan, said: “I took a decision some time ago not to meet any lobbyists at all. I have been campaigning for years for more direct democracy, for the dispersal of power and for an end to comitology and an institutionalised role for NGOs. I realise, of course, that the overwhelming majority of lobbyists behave properly and transparently, and I don’t criticise those MEPs who take a different line. But, having taken my decision, I’m not prepared to start making exceptions.”

MEP                                  No. of lobbyists met
1) Giles Chichester              219
2) Syed Kamall                   145
3) Malcolm Harbour            127
4) Vicky Ford                      88
5) Marina Yannakoudakis    83
6) Julie Girling                     81
7) Robert Sturdy                 78
8) Kay Swinburne                69
9) Struan Stevenson            60
10) Sajjad Karim                 42
11) Emma McClarkin          42
12) Roger Helmer               40
13) Martin Callanan             27
14) Ashley Fox                    27
15) Jacqueline Foster          26
16) Richard Ashworth          23
17) Geoffrey Van Orden      23
18) Charles Tannock           20
19) Nirj Deva                      18
20) James Nicholson           13
21) James Elles                    12
22) Timothy Kirkhope          12
23) Philip Bradbourn             7
24) Sir Robert Atkins            0
25) Daniel Hannan                0

This table (above) is produced by Public Affairs News based on the Conservatives’ 54-page document. We list the MEPs by the number of lobbyists they each record as meeting in the first six months of 2010: MEPs have recorded multi-person gatherings in different ways, so our ordering should be treated with caution

*** See also our boxout (below) for the thoughts of Tom Spencer, a former Conservative MEP who is now executive director of the European Centre for Public Affairs, on the Lobbying Contacts Report:

VIEWPOINT: Optimal tranparency?

Tom Spencer, the European Centre for Public Affairs executive director and a former Conservative MEP, writes:  

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have more personal experience of lobbying than any of their predecessors, but in the excitement of both European and general election campaigns they imposed apparently unworkable reporting requirements on their MEPs.
The Conservatives in the EP’s publication of the ‘Lobbying Contacts Report’ for January to June 2010 is the outcome.
Conservative MEPs have provided a list of meetings in their constituencies and Parliamentary offices. It is by no means perfect, but it should be welcomed as a step towards optimal transparency – a practical contribution that does not aspire to an impossible perfection.
I gather that some MEPs were asked to reduce the amount of detail given. The data does not cover telephone calls, emails, informal meetings or participation in seminars attended by lobbyists, yet all these would be natural forms of communication with lobbyists. Almost by definition, the closest of relationships involves the most informal contact.
Few MEPs admit to contacts with those organisations in which they have a financial interest, even if the website – as I write – charmingly describes the document as a ‘Lobbying Contract Report’!
Some interesting questions remain unanswered. One would be interested to hear more from Dan Hannan on why he does not want to talk to lobbyists.
Many of the entries relate to the role of MEPs as rapporteurs. Would Conservative MEPs have been more of a target if they were in a more relevant political group? An interesting research project would be to compare the contacts of Liberal Democrat MEPs with their Conservative colleagues.
One thing is certain. Good relations between a governing party and its MEPs are important. Perhaps Mr Cameron might now find time, in this parliamentary term, to meet his MEPs, not least to discuss how the European Parliament differs from Westminster – or perhaps he could have a word with Nick Clegg, who works closely with his MEPs.

2nd November 2010 by Ian Hall

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