By JAMIE SMYTH
THE VAST majority of Irish firms are shunning an EU register of lobbyists, which is designed to provide the public with information on corporate influence in Brussels.
The three biggest Irish firms – CRH, Ryanair and Kerry Group – who intensively lobby EU institutions on upcoming European legislation, have not signed up to the voluntary register.
The Irish Farmers’ Association and employers’ body Ibec have also so far refused to sign up to the European Commission’s initiative to boost transparency, even though they both run well-staffed lobbying offices in Brussels.
Just 18 Irish-based organisations have signed up to the register, which requires companies to detail the amount of money they spend on lobbying activities or, if they are specialist public affairs firms, to list their clients and their annual revenues. Any firm or organisation that signs the register must also sign up to a code of conduct stating they apply the principles of openness, transparency, honesty and integrity.
About 2,000 organisations in Europe have signed up to the register since it was launched in June 2008, including US multinationals such as Dell, Microsoft and Intel.
Hume Brophy is the only Irish-based public affairs company to sign up. Its filing shows that its biggest client is the European Travel Retail Council and it generated up to €900,000 in revenue during 2007.
The computer skills organisation ECDL Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that provides computer training, spends up to €500,000 each year lobbying the EU. Several of the register’s signatories are not-for-profit organisations or charities like the Association of Hunt Saboteurs and Trócaire.
“The Irish example fits a general pattern whereby most EU firms have decided not to sign up to the register because it is voluntary. The register is clearly not working and needs to be made mandatory like in the US,” says Olivier Hoedeman, who works with Corporate Europe Observatory, an NGO campaigning on EU transparency issues.
Socialist MEP Joe Higgins said the EU’s voluntary register was a joke and criticised the influence that big companies such as Ryanair wielded at EU level. “We recently saw the aviation commissioner, who is meant to be a regulator, getting an all-expenses paid trip around Ireland in a Ryanair jet. When I complained to the commission I was told there was no problem with this,” said Mr Higgins, who added that a new mandatory register was needed.