Madrid-Brussels Express

A recent poll showed Spaniards were secondly most worried about corruption, following unemployment. Not a surprise since hardly a day goes by without a new political scandal being unveiled.

Corruption offers of course a myriad of possibilities. One of them is the grey area that separates professional lobbying from improper dealings with public officials. In Spain this has been traditionally seen – and probably with reason- an area where cronyism and personal contacts work wonders, in detriment of a professional and by the book relationship.

Luckily that’s where the focus is being put at the moment. A few weeks ago the national Commission for the Markets and Competition (CNMC, in Spanish) made available a register for entities to register. This in itself is good news as it’s the first nation-wide lobbying registry and as such is a step forward towards guaranteeing a level playing field and equal access to public powers.

The entities which sign up to the register agree to comply with an ethics code issued by the regulator. Another piece of good news is that the registry allows for or contemplates five different kinds of organization, thus being realistic and leaving behind the naïve idea that only big businesses lobby. The categories include consulting, legal advice and counseling, companies and trade associations, foundations and NGOs, academia and research, and others. This is no doubt a lesson learned from Ireland, where recently it was discovered that Ryanair had naughtily failed to register its meeting with an Irish MEP. When questioned, the company explained that the meeting had been held in the capacity of a member of a European aviation industry association, an entity which was not subject to register under the transparency rules.

52 organizations have signed up in the first two weeks, and of each of the five different categories. No small feat, considering that a first registry was made available in Catalonia at the end of 2015 and to this date a meagre 2 organizations have registered.

But how efficient can this registry really be? According to a Transparency International 2014 report, for lobbying regulation to be efficient three conditions must be met: relations between lobbyists and public officials must be transparent, there must be a clear ethics code applicable to both (integrity) and equal access to the making of public decisions. The new register meets all three of them, with the caveat that it’s voluntary. Making it compulsory could be a fourth condition to make it more efficient. A fifth excellent condition would be to extend it to all other public institutions.

So in all truthfulness, it’s only a small step that has been taken. But it’s a good step in the right direction.

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