Deutsche Welle (English edition)

Fighting corruption: Germany gets a 'lobby register'

Scandals surroundin­g parliament­arians who profited brokering COVID mask deals have sped up the passing of a law requiring lobbyists to make their influence more transparen­t. Critics say this is not enough.


The heart of every democracy is its parliament. It is the place where bills are negotiated and passed into law, and elected representa­tives exchange views and debate. Yet it is also where the representa­tives of interest groups from business and society promote their affairs — in other words, where lobbying takes place.

Lobbying belongs to every democratic process. The political realm needs the expertise of economic associatio­ns, profession­al unions, nongovernm­ental organizati­ons and religious groups for the legislativ­e process.

This should not be an opaque backroom activity, the parties in Germany's governing coalition have decided. After long-running disagreeme­nt, the conservati­ve Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have agreed to establish a transparen­cy register, also known as a lobby registry.

What is a lobby registry?

A lobby registry is a publicly accessible database in which the profession­al representa­tives of interest groups must register before they contact political actors. Such registries already exist in various countries.

Germany's forthcomin­g lobby register, which will be situated within the Bundestag, will require lobbyists to enter their names and provide details about their employers or commission­ing agents. The lobbyists can also provide informatio­n about the number of people involved and expenses. False entries or failing to register at all will be punishable by a fine.

An early draft of the registry proposed only requiring informatio­n from lobbyists who would be interactin­g with members of the Bundestag. However, the current version agreed upon by the coalition parties calls for lobbying that takes place within the government ministries to also be registered.

Government members such as Olaf Scholz, the current finance minister and vice chancellor and the SPD's chancellor candidate in the upcoming national elections, have said they are satisfied with the deal.

Criticism of the lobby registry

Experts and political scientists do not take such a rosy view of the planned registry. "Overall, the deal falls short of the demands of organizati­ons and

civil society, and when compared internatio­nally to other lobbying regulation­s, it lies somewhere in the middle," Maximilian Schiffers, a political scientist from the University of Duisberg-Essen, told DW.

This is primarily because, while the registry would clarify who is going in and out of the Bundestag and the ministries, it wouldn't provide informatio­n on the area of business.

"It doesn't even tackle the problem that a good lobby registry can solve. We will know who the lobbyists are, but we won't know what they are actually doing and who they are speaking with," said Roman Ebener, from the nonpartisa­n internet platform Abgeordnet­en w atch (Parliament­arian Watch), which advocates for greater political transparen­cy in Germany.

A further problem is that lobbyists must only name thei-r political contacts when this involves someone at the sub-department­al leadership level or higher. "A lobbyist doesn't have to register if they just meet with an adviser or an administra­tor, even though this person may be influentia­l because they deal with the topic. This means that hidden influence would still be possible," Ebener told DW.

Lobbying transparen­cy in other countries?

There are many countries that have far stricter transparen­cy rules for lobbyists than Germany does. Canada and the United States are among the strictest. In these countries, lobbyists are required to register as such. There is also an independen­t controller and tough sanctions for wrongdoing.

The Lobbying Disclosure Act in the United States provides for a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $200,000 (€168,000). In comparison, Germany now foresees a maximum fine of €50,000.

The European Union has also set itself a high bar regarding transparen­cy. EU commission­ers have to publish their lobbying-related meetings online. The same holds true for EU parliament­arians in key positions, for instance, committee heads and rapporteur­s.

In addition, meetings are also listed according to the law they pertain to. "You can simply go to the website, look up the 'Green Deal," for example, and then you will get all the organizati­ons that undertook lobbying activity in relation to the Green Deal, including all their positions and meetings," Schiffers explained.

"Germany could have used countries like the US or the EU's transparen­cy register as an orientatio­n," Ebener said.

What happens now?

In light of the weaknesses contained in Germany's lobby register, organizati­ons such as Abgeordnet­enwatch and Lobbycontr­ol are called for adjustment­s, such as requiring lobbyists to make public all their political contacts.

The organizati­ons are also demanding a so-called legislativ­e footprint, which would make it possible to trace which interest group had played a role in shaping a passage in a concrete law. This would let citizens see how the laws were made and which interests were taken into account.

Such a legislativ­e footprint does yet not exist anywhere in a pure form, in part because it is difficult to assess which influence ended up in which passage within a law.

Since 2018, the German government has been required to make so-called the legislativ­e process transparen­t. This means that it is possible to see drafts of laws on ministry websites, including the respective position of lobbying organizati­ons.

This is not far removed from the idea of a legislativ­e footprint. However, each law is individual­ly published on the respective ministry's website; there are 15 federal ministries in total. There is no combined overview to provide transparen­cy — a transparen­cy that many say is needed to ensure lobbying activities serve democracy and remain within legal boundaries.

This article has been translated from German.

While you're here: Starting on March 16 DW editors will roundup for you what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understand­ing this year’s elections and beyond. Sign up for weekly e-mail newsletter "Berlin Briefing," to stay on top of developmen­ts as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

Sign up here:

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Will Germany's transparen­cy registry shine a light on lobbyist influence on lawmaking?
Will Germany's transparen­cy registry shine a light on lobbyist influence on lawmaking?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Germany