The European Commission's voluntary register of lobbyists and their interests went live on Monday, and already contains over 60 entries - but will food industry players take a pledge on transparency?
The multilingual register, which can be found online here , aims to increase transparency in the dealings of groups that influence policy and decision-making. It asks lobbyists to disclose information on their client lists, what their mission is and how they are funded, so that both policymakers and the general public "can assess the strength of the interests promoting a particular policy option". Lobbyists that sign up also agree to abide by a code of conduct. Athenora, a consulting firm that counts Pepsi Co and Moët Hennessy amongst its clients, was one of the first lobbyists to make an entry this week. Founder Stephane Desselas, told FoodNavigator.com that transparency is particularly important since it is directly related to the consumers.
"It is one of the industries that can cause questions and issues about what is happening in Brussels." In a similar way, he commended Foratom, the Brussels-based trade association for the nuclear energy industry in Europe, for its early entry in the register, since the nuclear area is one that raises direct concerns with consumers. Desselas' view on the importance for food was not shared by Miguel da Silva, an advisor with nutrition-oriented consultancy EAS. He told FoodNavigator.com that the register will have "no particular impact for the food industry" beyond that it will have for others.
"It is simply a new way of working. For the industry, it will not change anything." EAS has not made an entry into the Commission register, and the consultancy's management is still considering whether it will do so. It does not currently publish its client lists, for reasons including that some of its contracts are covered by confidentiality agreements. But da Silva pointed out that, in order to have a badge to access the European Parliament, lobbyists need to be registered and sign up to a code of conduct. For his part, Desselas believes the register is useful for two main reasons.
"It allows anyone to identify who are the stakeholders at a European level," he said, adding that the public can know that there is no hidden agenda and lobbying of decision makers is not taking place behind closed doors. Secondly, lobbyists who are registered are bound by the code of conduct of the European Commission. This, he said, guarantees that lobbyists do not give misleading information on their activities. Registration expectations It is still early days for the Commission's register - too early to give a firm indication of the food industry participation.
Amongst those who do declare interests in the food industry, however, are beverage firm Pernod Ricard, and Norwegian consumer goods firm Orkla (also the parent of ingredients firm Borregaard). Chris Whitehouse, managing director of The Whitehouse Consultancy, which includes Ajinamoto, The Health Food Manufacturers Association and Holland and Barrett amongst its clients, told FoodNavigator.com that he will make an entry into the register. Sabine Henssler, communications director for the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA), said: "Obviously, CIAA, which is an open and transparent organisation, is already registered officially in relevant Commission & Parliament lists. As such we do not anticipate any objections to signing the register in question. "However, we are currently evaluating this together with our large number of very diverse members and no doubt we will come to a conclusion in the near future."
Desselas said he expects big manufacturers to be "very open to this kind of thing".
But he expects it may take some time before multinationals' entries appear in the register, as it will take a while for them to calculate the amount of their lobbying expenditure.