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Overhaul of zombie lobby register needed, say parties
Transparency

Overhaul of zombie lobby register needed, say parties

by John MONAGHAN 4 min. 24.05.2022
Ledger shows only the names of lobbyist organisations, not if meetings with politicians have actually taken place
Cosy room for cosy business? Luxembourg's parliament in session.
Cosy room for cosy business? Luxembourg's parliament in session.
Photo credit: Lex Kleren

Luxembourg's lobby register provides almost no insight into how companies seek to sway politics, lawmakers have said, urging a revamp of the list only months after it was created, and raising fresh doubts about the country's goal of shedding its secretive habits.

The names of more than 50 organisations, including business and voluntary groups, currently appear in parliament's “transparency register”. The Luxembourg subsidiary of Japan Tobacco International (JTI), one of the world’s leading tobacco companies, is among the few private firms listed on the register, which was voted into law in December. 

But there are no details if or when any meetings took place, how often, or with which politicians.

Sven Clement, who tabled the legislation which led to the creation of the register, said it was clear that there were "huge gaps" in the existing set-up
Sven Clement, who tabled the legislation which led to the creation of the register, said it was clear that there were "huge gaps" in the existing set-up
Foto: Anouk Antony/LW-Archiv

The set-up is “bizarre”, and shows “huge gaps”, said Pirate Party leader Sven Clement, who introduced a bill in 2019 that led to the law. “You could have someone... who met (deputies) ten times in the last ten weeks. They should be on the list... for each and every meeting,” he said in an interview.

The list contains a wide range of mostly public and non-governmental bodies, including the country’s industry lobby Fedil, environmental group Greenpeace, anti-poverty group Caritas, and several trade unions.  

Effectively, the only fact that can be gleaned from the register - accessible on parliament's website - is an organisation's intention to make contact with politicians. Lobbyists are told that signing up is "their own responsibility", and they are allowed to deregister at any time they wish.

Tobacco giant

JTI's Luxembourg subsidiary said that while it “holds discussions with the administration on a regular basis”, it has not met any lawmakers since the register took effect. The Luxembourg Times also contacted political parties, none of which said they had held any meetings with JTI.

JT International Luxembourg SA has three staff operating from an office in the village of Bascharage, a spokesman for the company told The Luxembourg Times, with no employees in the Cloche d'Or area of the capital, which is the address recorded with the Luxembourg Business Register.

The company is "closely monitoring the transposition of the single-use plastics directive in Luxembourg", a spokesman for the tobacco giant said. 

"As stated in the [EU] directive, all producers impacted by this new legislation have the right to engage in its transposition. However, JTI’s activities in Luxembourg over the past few months did not involve any meeting with members of parliament,” the spokesman added.

Still in the dark

December's law was a strongly watered-down version of Clement’s draft that took two years of political wrangling. The process seemed like “one step forward and two steps back”, the Pirate Party leader said.

“The public only knows that companies are coming to parliament. It should be transparent… a list of who met who, the date and maybe a bit (about what was discussed),” Clement added.

The Greens, one of the three parties which make up Luxembourg’s governing coalition, also want to see change. The party has decided to publish details of meetings it holds since the beginning of the year. 

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel's party, the Democratic Party, has listed meetings on its website since the end of February
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel's party, the Democratic Party, has listed meetings on its website since the end of February
Anouk Antony

 “The (parliament) register does not give any indication on whether, if, and when meetings might have taken place,” said a spokesman for the Greens. “We believe that this system – though an important step in the right direction - is still not transparent enough.”

The Democratic Party of Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has a similar register of meetings on its website, which dates back to the end of February. 

The only blanket provision for lawmakers to disclose contacts with lobbyists that could influence legislation is during debates in closed-door committee sessions, but these are not made public.

Review at end of year

The Grand Duchy's track record of government transparency is shaky. The country was one of the last EU states to pass a freedom of information document access law in 2018, and Bettel said last year he worried that transparency may hurt the country's business appeal.

Parliament previously introduced a code of conduct in 2014, but it lacked teeth and did not cover the wide array of lobbying efforts that parliamentarians could be subjected to, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) - a transparency body of the Council of Europe - said in a report in 2019.   

Prior to the introduction of the existing register, a European Commission report in July 2021 criticised aspects of Luxembourg's approach to disclosing public information and said the country's members of parliament effectively “apply their own code of conduct” regarding lobbying.

Under rules approved in March, Luxembourg will ban ex-ministers from lobbying the government for two years after they leave office. The reform was adopted just weeks after two former officials stepped down from lucrative posts with Russian companies they took up following their resignation from office.

An ethics committee will decide whether any new position a former minister takes up in the two years following their resignation poses a conflict of interest, while ministers and senior civil servants will also have to disclose meetings with lobbyists, according to the new ethics code.


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