A parliament is at the center of any democracy. This is where laws are negotiated and passed. However, it is not only a place where elected members of Parliament exchange ideas, but it is also a place where representatives of business and society proclaim their concerns.
It is a part of every democratic process. For its legislation, politics requires the expertise of trade associations, trade unions, non-governmental organizations, and churches.
However, this should not be done in the back room without transparency. After a long dispute, the governing parties of the SPD and CDU / CSU recently agreed to it. A transparency register, also known as a lobby register, aims to shed light on the representation of interests. But how bright this cone of light is – there is still disagreement.
But first: what is a lobby register?
A lobby register is an independently accessible database in which representatives of a professionally operating interest have to register before contacting politicians. Such registers already exist in various countries.
In the lobby register, now arriving in Germany and located in the Bundestag, lobbyists must enter their names and provide information about their employer or client. You can also indicate the number of employees and financial expenses. Fines should be imposed for misinformation or not giving any information at all.
An earlier draft of the governing parties stated that only lobists interacting with members of parliament and parliamentary groups, that is, members of parliament, would have to register. Now, however, the agreement between the SPD and the CDU / CSU confers influence on the federal government, that is, the ministries should also be clarified.
The parties still only announced that they had reached an agreement. Some details are still unclear. Government member, Olaf Scholz, as a candidate for Chancellor and Chancellor of the SPD, is satisfied with the agreement.
What is the criticism of the planned lobby register?
The assessment of experts and scientists does not look so positive. “Overall, the agreements fall behind the demands of the unions and civil society and the lobby is in the midfield in an international comparison of regulation,” Maximilian Schiffers, a political scientist at Diesburg-Essen, DW University, said in an interview with DW.
This is mainly due to the fact that the lobby register makes it clear who comes to Parliament and Ministries and on which subject. “The problem that a good lobby register can solve is not dealt with at all. We’ll know who the lobbyists are, but what they actually do and who they talk to, we don’t know,” non-partisan. Roman Eibner says the parliamentary clock on the internet platform D.W.
Another problem: Lobbyists will only have to indicate contact if it extends to the level of sub-department head. “If a lobbyist just meets speakers or clerks, who can still make an impact because they are busy with the subject, they don’t need to register. That means, covert effect is still possible,” Ebeneer. it is said.
How is it in other countries?
Many countries have very strict transparency rules for lobbyists compared to Germany. The United States and Canada are among the countries with strict regulations. It is mandatory to register as a lobbyist there. There is also an independent supervisory body and severe sanctions in the event of malpractice.
The “Lobbying Disclosure Act” provides for a jail term of up to five years and a fine of up to $ 200,000. For comparison: In Germany the agreement includes a maximum fine of 50,000 Euros.
The European Union has also implemented a very high level of transparency. For example, EU commissioners are required to publish their lobbying meetings on the Internet, and the same applies to EU Foreign Minister MEPs, such as committee chairmen and synergies.
The European Union has stricter transparency rules than its German member state
In addition, meetings are broken up according to the law. Political scientists say, “You can just go to the website, for example, see ‘Green Deal’. Schiffers.” Germany could have oriented itself to countries like the Transparency Register of the US or the European Union, “says Ebeneer of Parliament Watch . “
How are things going now?
In view of the draft weaknesses for a lobby register in Germany, organizations such as parliament monitoring and lobby control are calling for reevaluation. Lobbyists should disclose all their contacts in politics. In addition, organizations are calling for a so-called legislative footprint. From this it would be possible to understand which interest group was involved in a specific law at which point.
In this way, the citizen can see how laws are made and what interests are taken into consideration. In its absolute pure form, this footprint does not yet exist in any country – also because it is sometimes difficult to assess which effect led to which specific legal path.
The envisaged German lobby register does not provide for a legislative footprint. It is not completely understandable for political scientist Maximilian Schiffers, as it is already present in diluted form in Germany. Since 2018, the federal government has committed itself to providing so-called “transparent legislation”.
This means that draft laws can be viewed on the websites of ministries, including related statements by lobby associations. For example, it can be found on the website of the “Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture”. “Plant Health Act”. These include opinions on the draft legislation of various lobbyists, for example the “Union of Agricultural Chambers”.
It comes close to the idea of at least one legislative footprint. However, each law is individually cumbersome on the respective websites of the 15 ministries. There is no bundle presentation. But it would create the necessary transparency – the transparency needed to guarantee lobbyism, which is essential to a democracy and yet not flow into illegitimate forms.