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Day in, day out, the EU churns out a myriad of press releases on a wide range of issues. The problem is – how  do you identify the press releases you are really interested in ?

For those who want to be involved in the EU consultation process, there is help at hand. The EU’s Transparency Register, which exists since 2011, does help ‘EU watchers’ to focus on policy initiatives at an early stage. This register provides a regular alert service for upcoming initiatives. It is jointly run by the European Parliament and the European Commission, and since 2012, organisations and individuals have 12 weeks to respond to EU consultations.

The register has two functions.First, to circulate information; those who sign-up receive e-mail alerts each time the Commission publishes a new roadmap or launches a public consultation for the fields in which they have expressed an interest. Second, to list those receiving advance notices; the register provides an open record in a single website about the organisations and self-employed individuals engaged in activities aiming at influencing the EU decision making process.  Details of those who have signed-up appear on the comprehensive data-base at –http://ec.europa.eu/transparencyregister/info/homePage.do

The Register is about openness

The Register is consistent with Article 1 of The Treaty on European Union that – “…marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen”.

Does signing-up make one a lobbyist? The short answer is no. The Joint Transparency Register Secretariat points out that – “It does not mean that those registering can be labelled ‘lobbyists’ as there is no commonly agreed definition of this word and that the scope of the Register is much wider, encompassing all activities covered by article 11 of the Treaty on participatory democracy”.

Who registers?

The website for the EU’s Transparency Register states that – “All organisations and self employed individuals, irrespective of their legal status, engaged in activities falling within the scope of the register are in principle expected to register”.Any body registering has to do so on-line, at the transparency register website. The Transparency Register secretariat will not accept paper based registrations. It costs nothing to register.

The Transparency Register is updated on a very regular basis. As of 08/12/14, there are 7229 registrants on the register. Those registering give a public indication that their organisations accept to “play by the rules” and to interact with the European institutions in full transparency. It also publically identifies what organisations are active in contributing to the EU processes.Those registering do have to provide a range of information about themselves,such as the number of staff involved in advocacy, the main legislative proposals they have covered, as well as the amount of EU funding they received.There is no minimum threshold for registration in terms of membership, turnover, or number of employees ,and information has to be updated at least once a year.

Widening consultation

Organisations that have signed-up for the Transparency Register will get early notice of consultations that are about to take place. Until recent years, the European Commission allowed eight weeks for organisations to comment on plans for new policies and legislation. However, on 3rd January 2012, the European Commission extended this period for consultation to twelve weeks. In announcing the change, the then President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said: “A key part of getting our policies right is listening to the people who will be affected by them. By keeping our consultations open longer we will strengthen the voice of the citizens, businesses and organisations that help us shape our policies for the benefit of all.”

The extended consultation period and the new alert service have increased the potential for greater participation in public consultation- The more organisations that express their views, the better. By ensuring that all relevant organisations have sufficient time to submit their comments, The European Commission have allowed for a better informed decision making process, and while consultation is not a substitute for decision-making, it enables the decision-making process to take account of the widest range of views and fullest information on a particular policy area.

Tom Ferris is a consultant economist specialising in Public Sector Governance, Better Regulation and Transport Economics. He was Senior Economist in the Department of Transport until February 2006. Since then, he has undertaken consultancy projects for the World Bank, the OECD, the High Level Group on Business Regulation, and a number of private sector companies. He is an occasional lecturer in public sector economics at NUIG, UCC, and Public Affairs Ireland and he writes regularly for PAI Publications. He holds a Masters degree in economics from University College Dublin and a Fellowship from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.