The representatives of the lobbying sector in Spain want the law regulating their activity to be processed through the urgency procedure. This is what the Association of Institutional Relations Professionals (APRI) has requested in its observations on the Draft Bill on Transparency and Integrity of Interest Groups. They state that the Government’s efforts to regulate the activity will be of no use if it does not act quickly enough for it to be approved by the Spanish Parliament before the end of the legislature.
Moreover, lobby professionals in Spain, in the light of what happened in the European Parliament with the Qatargate case, insist on the importance of regulating the activity not only in time, but also in an appropriate manner.
In this regard, they are concerned about the exclusions in the registration requirement for certain interest groups. For APRI, the basic principle of any lobbying regulation is that “a lobbyist is a lobbyist who lobbies”. They consider that any agent that carries out lobbying activities on its own behalf, through intermediaries or on behalf of third parties should be considered a lobbyist and be subject to the same rights and obligations of the regulation, whether they are employers’ associations, trade unions, business associations or professional associations.
APRI considers that their inclusion does not limit their rights, but rather is an instrument that adds transparency and standards of conduct to their lobbying activities. In fact, many of these organisations have already been registered for some time in many of the existing registers of transparency or interest groups in the EU, as well as in the Autonomous Communities or public bodies such as the CNMC. In the words of APRI’s secretary, Esteban Egea, “excluding a type of interest group from the register when this group carries out activities of influence only means that these activities are carried out in opacity and without having to respond to the ethical commitment established by law”.
Another concern expressed by APRI regarding the Draft Bill is the lack of equal rights and obligations for lobbyists and public servants. They claim that the current wording does not balance the responsibilities of lobbyists and public employees subject to influence, and demand that, just as obligations are established for lobbyists, the legal obligations of public employees should also be established, for example, in relation to the transparency of their own agendas and the registration of their contacts with lobbyists. Dolores González Pastor, member of APRI’s Regulatory Committee, stresses that “ethical obligations have to be balanced and applied by both parties within the scope of their responsibility, both by the lobbyist or interest group and by the public official subject to influence”.
APRI is concerned about the exclusions in the registration requirements for certain interest groups and the lack of equal rights and obligations for lobbyists and public servants.
In addition to this, APRI requires that the future regulation should stipulate that the Register must be attached to a body that is functionally and organically independent, with its own sanctioning power, in order to provide it with sufficient credibility from a functional and administrative point of view, so that under no circumstances can the supervisory body be understood to be acting as both judge and party, resolving infringements and sanctions of the same Executive. The need for this independent supervision has been clearly highlighted in Qatargate and is now one of the priorities for improvement proposed at the highest levels of the Union.
Thus, the professional association calls for the regulation to develop a balanced sanctioning regime for both parties, since without an adequate framework for defining infringements and sanctions, the obligations imposed on both lobbyists and public personnel will not be fulfilled and the law will fall short of its intended objectives.