Rules and RegulationsIn a nutshell, regulations around lobbying can be broadly divided between National, European or International rules. Find out more about these regulations below:
Timeline of development of European Lobbying Regulations:
1996THE BEGINNING OF REGULATIONThe European Parliament regulates for the first time the access of interest groups to its building with a pass system. Each lobbyist was required to register and disclose details about its organisation and the goal of the activities being performed, whilst accepting a code of conduct setting minimal ethical standards.
2005THE EUROPEAN TRANSPARENCY INITIATIVESiim Kallas, the Director-General for Administrative Affairs, Audit and Anti-Fraud launches the European Transparency Initiative (ETI) with the goal of increasing public confidence in the EU institutions.
2008FIRST REGISTRY FOR LOBBYISTSThe European Commission establishes its voluntary register for lobbyists - The European Commission Register of Interest Representatives - Lobbyists who register now have to abide by a code of conduct and receive important alerts about upcoming Commission proposals. The European Parliament adopted a resolution on the development of the framework for the activities of interest representatives in the European institutions’. The Joint Working Group between the Parliament and the Commission starts to prepare the Inter-Institutional Agreement (IIA).
2011THE INTER-INSTITUTIONAL AGREEMENTThe IIA is passed launching the Joint Transparency Register (JTR) of the Parliament and Commission, establishing a joint voluntary transparency register. Lobbyists can now register their activities with the Joint Transparency Register Secretariat (JTRS) by providing information about their activity, expenditure, resources and targets. The Secretariat is a department separated from the Commission and the Parliament, and it can now impose temporary suspensions or removals from the registry.
2014COMMISSION IS CALLED TO SUBMIT A NEW PROPOSALThe Parliament and the Commission sign a new IIA improving the rules on financial disclosure and the availability of data. The Parliament calls on the Commission to submit a new legislative proposal before the end of 2016. The president of the Commission at the time (Jean-Claude Juncker) pledge to increase transparency in the EU, and later in November the Commission passed a decision that requires Director-Generals to publish on their websites the dates, locations, names and topics of discussion in bilateral meetings, adding that they should only meet organisations or self-employed individuals that are registered with the JTR.
2018A NEW IIA?The legislative proposal called for by the Parliament in 2014 was under debate, and in its current form would establish a mandatory register for the activity of lobbyists in the Parliament, Commission and the Council. The proposal also aims to give audit and investigative powers to the JTRS, and assures that the three institutions shall provide the necessary human resources to the Secretariat.
2019NEW RULES OF PROCEDURE FOR MEPsIn January 2019, MEPs reformed the Rules of Procedure to make it binding for rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs to publicly list their lobby meetings.
National Lobbying Regulations in EU Member States
Group 1: Statutory Lobbying Regulations (Mandatory Regulation)
In September 2011, the Austrian Public Affairs Association (OePAV) was founded. Austriaʼs Federal Law for the Transparency of Lobbying Activities and Representation of Political and Economic Interests came into force on January 1, 2013. The law establishes conduct and transparency rules for lobbying in parliamentary or administrative decision-making processes. Lobbying companies, businesses that hire lobbyists to represent their interests, individual lobbyists and associations that carry out activities to represent political and economic interests must register in the Austrian Federal Justice Ministryʼs official lobby and transparency registry — a public database. Those involved in lobbying must follow a code of conduct and publish this code on their own websites. Violating the conduct code results in financial penalties of up to EUR 60,000 and can lead to the elimination of the entity from the lobby registry (where the violation of the rules is considered serious a new registration will only be possible after three years). The mandatory register establishes four different sections of entities separated by the type of actor and establishing different levels of transparency for each.
In 2018 the first legal framework for a lobby register was introduced in Belgium. By registering, lobbyists agree to respect a Code of Conduct, which will be annexed to Parliament’s Rules and Procedures Code. It requires them to act in an honest, transparent and professional way by imposing obligations to disclose to Members of Parliament, their assistants or civil servants of the Parliament the specific interests they represent and to refrain from actions to obtain information in a dishonest way. Overall, the register applies to all organisations who – directly or indirectly – intend to influence the policy-making and decision-making process and its implementation, covering professional consultancy agencies, in house lobbyists and independent consultants, law firms, trade unions, NGO’s, religious representatives, trade associations, think thanks and academic institutions. Note however that certain activities regarding legal or other professional advice will be exempted. Each registrant will be required to provide the register with their personal identification data, the information of the organization they work for and the client they are representing. Recently in 2016 a new Belgian Public Affairs Community (BEPACT) was created with the objective of promoting public affairs activities in Belgium by gathering public affairs professionals in the territory and creating a code of conduct according to which members should abide by.
The French Parliament has adopted rules to regulate the ‘representation of interests’ in 2009, establishing that the Bureau of the National Assembly should draw up a list of public or private interest representatives who then shall be granted special rights of access in exchange for the provision of information on their activities and the interests they are defending, while further committing to adhere to the Bureau-approved code of conduct. Interest Representatives may request to be added on the list and then wait the approval of the Bureau. The French Senate also approved similar rules in 2009. If the code is not respected, representatives can be withdrawn or temporarily suspended from the list. A mandatory register was proposed in 2016 and finally became into force through ‘Loi Sapin II du 9 décembre 2016’. The registry is managed by the High Authority for Transparency of Public Life (HATVP) and penalties in case of default go up to one year of imprisonment and 15,000 € fines. The representatives of interests (but also, companies, NGOs, associations) must register in this digital directory to meet the ministers and their cabinet, parliamentarians and their collaborators, certain senior officials and local elected representatives. In the French landscape there are also a number of organisations that represent lobbying professionals who often also devise codes of conduct. First in 1985 the Association for Professionals of Public Affairs (APPA) was formed, then in 1991 the French Association of Lobbying Consultants (AFCL) was created, and later in 2011 the Association of Lawyer-lobbyists (AAL) initiated activity.
As of 1 January 2022, Germany has set up a mandatory public lobbying register. Its broad scope covers – similar to the EU transparency register – every entity which regularly communicates with the German federal executive or legislative to represent and further its interests.
Already back in 2003 the Public Relations Institute of Ireland adopted a code of conduct for professional public affairs practitioners to adhere to when becoming members. However, only during 2014/2015 Ireland passed the Regulation of Lobbying Act. This legal diploma established a public web-based register for lobbyists where they are supposed to publicly provide information regarding their activities, namely, the identity of those communicating with designated public officials on policy decisions, legislative matters or prospective decisions. The regulation also provides for restrictions on taking certain kinds of employment by certain public officials and establishes a cooling-off period. The Public Office Standards Commission oversees the implementation of the registry, monitors compliance, offers guidance and assistance and, if needed, investigates violations of the legal requirements, being able to apply sanctions or even to move court proceedings in more serious cases of violations.
In March 2017 the first official register for lobbyists was established at a national level in Italy, after years of debates without any systematic regulation of lobbying. Actually, between 1984 and 2014 an astonishing number of more than 50 bills relating to ‘pressure groups’ were proposed in Italy. The regulation approved in 2017 only applies to Italy’s Parliament, leaving out the Senate, however, both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies have rules that allow them to audit representatives of public and private organisations to acquire news, information or documents relevant to parliamentary activities, being this mechanism used by interest groups to express their needs and to furnish specialized technical inputs to the legislator. By December 31 of each year, those registered in the register are obliged to present to the Chamber a report on the activity of interest representation carried out during the year, which gives an account of the contacts actually in place, of the objectives pursued and of the subjects in whose interest in the activity was carried out, with any changes occurred, as well as employees or collaborators who participated in the activity. Some public affairs associations have their own Codes of Conduct for members such as Il Chiostro, created in 2008, or the Italian Federation of Public Relations (FERPI), created in 1970.
On Thursday, 13 October 2022, Latvian Saeima (Parliament) passed in the final reading the Law on Transparency of Representation of Interests or the so-called lobbying transparency law. The law requires the register of interest representation and declaration system, which will be maintained by the Enterprises Register, will start operations on 1 September 2025.
The countryʼs most recent version of the Law on Lobbying came into force in 2015 and requires all lobbyists to enrol in a public registry by paying a fee while forcing them to comply with transparency requirements such as submitting reports that include revenues and spending related to lobbying, as well as their interests in relation to legislative proposals. Lobbying is defined as an action carried out with the purpose of influencing change or repeals in existing legislation or the adoption or rejection of new legislation, however, the law does not apply to associations or NGOs. Furthermore, all registered lobbyists are bound by the Lobbyists’ Code of Ethics which as been prepared and approved by the Chief Institutional Ethics Commission. The institutional ethics commission oversees compliance with institutional ethics standards, regulates public and private interests in public office and controls certain lobbying activities. In 2015, a new Law on Lobbying was presented in the parliament. According to this draft Law, all lobbyists, including those of the NGO’s, would be obliged to register with the Chief Official Ethics Commission and to report any lobby activity.
A lobby registry was introduced in July 2012 but it is only applicable to the Dutch House of Representatives, however, lobbyists registered with the House can also have access to the Senate buildings. In fact, registration is mandatory only in order to physically access ‘secure zones’ of the Parliament building. The Dutch professional association of lobbyists— the Beroepsvereniging van Public Affairs (BVPA) - was founded in 1999 and introduced a code of conduct to self-regulate its members. By becoming a member, lobbyists agree to abide by a code of conduct that, when not respected, can lead to disbarment from the association.
The Association of Professional Lobbyists in Poland (APLP) was created in 2003 and adopted a code of Ethics based on international best practices. Also, APLP was very active during the parliamentary discussions that led to the adoption of Polandʼs law on lobbying introduced in 2005. This law applies only to the activities of professional lobbyists and requires that each stakeholder wishing to submit opinions in the legislative process has to fill a special questionnaire, register at the Ministry of Administration and Digitization, and present a certificate of registration whenever contacting a politician or representative of the public administration. Furthermore, public officials have to report whenever they contact with professional lobbyists, including their level of influence on the decisions made by the public body. Lobbying is defined as any action carried out through legal means to influence public authorities in the legislative process. Failure to register as a lobbying entity results in fines of between 750€ and 12,500€. The law only applies to professional lobbyists and excludes all other categories of individuals or legal entities such as representatives of organisations or associations. There has been an extensive debate on how the law should be improved, amid complaints that it imposes excessive reporting requirements on public authorities, arguably making them reticent to establish contacts with registered lobbyists.
The UK is one of the countries of the EU where lobbying first emerged as an official title for professional activities, with the first professional parliamentary lobbyists being reported as far back as 1913! A number of organisations were created to try to establish either registries or codes of conduct for lobbyists, namely, in 1948 the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), in 1969, the Public Relations Consultants Association, and later, in 1994, five lobbying firms created the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC). Eventually, functions were centralized and are now mostly under the guise of CIPR. After problems arose due to the non-mandatory character of these self-regulatory mechanisms, the Parliament passed the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act in 2014. The legal diploma conditioned the ability to work as a consultant lobbyist to those registered. Importantly, in-house lobbyists and their employers are not required to register, nor is registration necessary if the person’s business ‘consists mainly of non-lobbying activities’ and any lobbying communication they make is merely ‘incidental’ to those non-lobbying activities. Furthermore, the act does not establish any statutory code of conduct to which registered lobbyists should abide by, it does not require lobbyists to identify which policymakers they met, nor which policy issues are being targeted by the activities. Formal procedures enable individual members of the public to lobby their Member of Parliament but most lobbying activity centers on corporate, charity and trade association lobbying, where organizations seek to amend government policy through advocacy.
Lobbying activity is included in the Integrity and Prevention of Corruption Act of 2010. Lobbying is defined as the work of those who are engaged on behalf of interest organisations in non-public influence on decisions of government bodies, the local authorities and holders of public powers in discussing and adopting regulations and other general documents as well as on decisions of government bodies, the local authorities and holders of public powers in matters other than those subject to judicial or administrative proceedings and procedures carried out in line with regulations governing public procurement and other procedure deciding on rights and obligations of individuals. Lobbying shall mean any non-public contact of a lobbyist with lobbied persons that has the aim to influence the contents or procedure concerning the adoption of the decisions referred to above. Lobbyists must register in a public database under the supervision of the Anti-Corruption Commission, n independent state body with a mandate in the field of preventing and investigating corruption, breaches of ethics and integrity of the public office. In the case of Slovenia, the regulation of lobbying activities also encouraged the formation of the Slovenian Association of Lobbyists, established in 2010, which created an Ethical Code that was made obligatory for all members in 2011.
The Lobbying Bill was introduced in the Scottish parliament in 2015 and later passed in 2016. The bill established a register where information relating to lobbying by paid consultants and in-house lobbyists who engage directly with public officials is meant to be stored. Lobbying is defined by the bill as only encompassing oral and direct communications with public officials, leaving out letters, emails, telephone calls or video conferences. The registry is managed by the Clerk of the Parliament who has powers to request information and monitor compliance with the law, and the bill also fixes criminal offences for those failing to provide the required information. The law also mandated the Parliament to develop a Code of Conduct which has now been produced and published, but the code has a larger range of applications than the registry since it applies to all types of communications with public officials.
Group 2: Self-Regulation (Mechanisms set up by the Public Affairs Community to promote the transparency of lobbying)
Since 2008 public discussion around the subject of lobbying have intensified in Croatia. In the same year, the Croatian Society of Lobbyists (HDL) was founded, aiming to promote and raise awareness about the importance of lobbying regulation. To this day, HDL is the only existing source of data on ‘registered lobbyists’. When entering HDL, each member must sign the Ethical Code of HDL, which commits them to abide by conducts in accordance with its provisions. Despite the work of the HDL, there was never an official law introduced with the objective of regulating lobbying activities, even though mention to the introduction of such a law is made in the Anti-corruption Action Plan for 2014-2020 that the Croatian Government has sent to the EU Commission in Brussels.
In Cyprus there is currently no specific obligation set in place for lobbyists to register ou publicly disclose the interactions they have with public officials. In general, the legal framework in Cyprus relating to freedom of information and political party financing can be classified as underdeveloped. Lobby groups may be invited to express opinions on particular issues in committee meetings, although it remains to the discretion of the chairman and the members of parliamentary committees to adopt or reject opinions expressed by interest groups. A group of Cyprus public affairs professionals and lobbyists took the initiative to establish the LPAP - Cyprus Association of Lobbyists and Public Affairs Professionals (no link available) in March 2017, also creating a code of ethics for its members.
Even though public discussions to introduce a lobbying register are common, Denmark appears to have no plans at the moment to create a mandatory lobbying register. An Ethical Code of Conduct was established by the Danish Public Relations Association. In 2012 MPs were given possibility to register contacts with external entities under a specific category in the voluntary register of financial interests, however, due to the fact that several MPs found it excessively burdensome to record such contacts and difficult to determine which were significant, the system was abandoned shortly afterwards. MPs now have a link on the parliamentary website to personal or party websites where they describe contacts with lobbyists on a voluntary basis.
Lobbying as such is not regulated by national legislation, however, a number of criminal anti-corruption provisions, administrative law provisions for civil servants and legal guarantees for publicity of documents are in place. Despite this, a number of organisations in Finland have their own code of Conduct such as Finnish Association of Marketing Communication Agencies, Edunvalvontafoorumi and the Association of Communications Professionals (ProCom - who also upholds a voluntary register). In 2013 and 2014 Finnish parliament, Eduskunta, considered drafting rules for lobbyists entering parliament premises seeking to influence its members and possibly establishing a mandatory register for all lobbyists, however, these proposals were eventually not adopted. In 2018, a Government analysis, assessment and research project studied international models for a register of lobbyists. The objective was to produce information on the register of lobbyists as a form of regulating lobbying activities and a recommendation on what kind of regulation would best work in Finland.
In 2010 the Romanian Lobbying Registry Association (RLRA) was established, setting up a voluntary system of registration coupled with an ethics code for all members of the association. In 2013, the Association took a further step and outsourced the Registry, transforming it into The Transparency Registry for Lobbying and Advocacy, supported by various organizations and supervised by a Commission led by civil society representatives. In 2015, the Code - mandatory for all registered lobbyists - has been revised by the Transparency Registry Supervisory Commission. Regarding the legal regulation of Lobbying Activities, between 2002 and 2011, six draft bills attempted to regulate lobbying. The latest draft law to regulate lobbying activities was discussed in 2014. In 2019, Romania was close to adopting a lobbying regulation based on the Austrian model, with a draft bill already approved by the Senate. Importantly, the project excludes several types of actions from being called lobbying, including those carried out by non-profits.
The Association of Public Relations Consultancies in Sweden (PRECIS) issued a series of PR guidelines that member consultancies are committed to follow. The main firms working with public affairs and lobbying are all members of the trade organization PRECIS, which is the dominant Swedish organization for the companies operating in the PR and communications consultancy sector. There appear to be no organizations who represent individual professional lobbyists nor specific public regulations regarding lobbying activities.
Group 3: No Specific Regulations on Lobbying
The Estonian legal system does not currently recognize lobbying as a legal institute. The first time serious political discussions arose around the subject was in 2012, when the Ministry of Justice at the time convened a working group aimed at presenting proposals for the regulation of the profession. In 2015 the discussions were again brought to the political agenda, even though no action was agreed upon at this time.
In 2003, the Statute Law 3126 on Criminal responsibility of Ministers was approved. Members of Parliament are subject to self-regulation under the principles set out by the Constitution and the Standing Orders of the Hellenic Parliament. The Civil Service Code sets out the basic values and principles which civil servants should follow in performing their duties. HACA, the Hellenic Association of Communication Agencies, is the official association representing Greek advertising and communications agencies. Founded in 1968, it has identified the problem of the unregulated operation of the lobbying profession and has been working on establishing a comprehensive code of ethics which should govern lobbying activities.
There is no legal prescription for lobbying activities within Luxembourg, and lobbyists are neither registered nor legally recognised. This does not mean however a total absence of private organisations trying to influence the legislative process, but it is rather a probable reflection of the small size of Luxembourg, where influence can easily be arranged through personal contacts and local organisations. Nonetheless, the ‘Loi du 1er avril 1979 sur le statut de la fonction publique’ refers to the principles of neutrality and impartiality of public officials.
Lobbying is not specifically regulated in Malta as an activity per se, however, the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) was established in 2001 as a means of involving the main socio-economic groups in the governmental process through consultation, having a number of entities such as unions, business representatives and the University of Malta. A code of ethics requires Members of the House of Representatives to declare connections with people that have a direct interest in legislation before the House.
Lobbying activities remain without specific legal regulation in Portugal. A number of other laws exist relating to political financing since as early as 1974. Nonetheless, at the end of 2014, the Portuguese Parliament was motivated by a Transparency International report to develop more Transparency regulations, presenting the first Transparency Package in mid-2015. In 2019 a proposal to introduce specific lobbying regulation was actually debated and approved in the Parliament, but since it was vetoed by the President due to regulatory lacunae, it appears that the proposal will not be approved soon.
Lobbying remains without specific regulation in Slovakia, however, a number of other regulations are in place to facilitate participation in the legislative process, such as a governmental website that compiles all legislative proposals and allows the general public to submit comments on them. The first attempt to regulate lobbying in a specific bill came in 2002. Two draft bills on lobbying were submitted in the legislative period that took place between 2012-2016 but none were approved.
For more information about lobbying regulation around the EU you can consult the following books or websites:
Regulation of lobbying across the EU Transparency of lobbying in Member States Comparative Analysis Phil Harris and Alberto Bitonti, Lobbying In Europe (Palgrave Macmillan/Springer Nature 2017).
Doris Dialer and Margarethe Richter, Lobbying In The European Union (Springer 2019).
Stanislav Sokur, Report: Lobbying Regulation In Europe: Recent Developments (Since 2014 Up To Now) (2019) <http://apaa.cz/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Lobbying-regulation-in-Europe-since-20141.pdf> accessed 21 November 2019.
The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has released a set of principles on which many lobbying regulations worldwide are based. The OECD suggests that all regulations around lobbying should abide by the following principles:
- Definition of lobbyist and lobbying activities targeted by regulation are clear and unambiguous.
- Disclosure requirements provide pertinent information on key aspects of lobbyists and lobbying such as its objective, beneficiaries, funding sources and targets.
- Rules and guidelines set standards for expected behavior, for example to avoid misuse of confidential information, conflict of interest and prevent revolving door practices.
- Procedures for securing compliance are framed in a coherent spectrum of strategies and mechanisms, including monitoring and enforcement.
- The organisational leadership promotes a culture of integrity and transparency in daily practice through regular disclosure and auditing to ensure compliance.
Results show that there is a consensus among lobbyists as well as legislators that transparency of lobbying would help alleviate actual or perceived problems of inappropriate influence-peddling by lobbyists. The OECD’s surveys show that the majority of surveyed lobbyists support mandatory disclosure of information. This view is also shared by close to three quarters (74%) of surveyed legislators.
The OECD further developed a set of 10 different principles revolving around four main areas of action - I. Building an effective and fair framework for openness and access; II. Enhancing Transparency; III. Fostering a culture of Integrity; IV. Mechanisms for effective implementation, compliance and review.
The principles were the result of a wide consultation in December 2009 with over a hundred stakeholders, including legislators, representatives of the private sector, lobbying associations, civil society, trade unions, think tanks, academics, and international and regional government organisations, and came to be adopted by the OECD Council as a Recommendation in 2010. The Principles reflect experiences of countries with diverse socio-political and administrative contexts and provide guidance to decision-makers in the executive and legislative branches at both national and sub-national levels. The Principles were developed in parallel with the European Transparency Initiative and the Code of Conduct for Interest Representatives of the European Commission.
In 2005 the in coordination with the UN Global Compact Initiative, the United Nations have released a report entitled ‘Towards Responsible Lobbying’ which examines issues around political lobbying and proposes a comprehensive framework that companies and NGOs can use to assess the responsibility of their own lobbying activities.
The Report defines Responsible lobbying as:
- a) Being consistent with an organization’s stated policies, commitments to stakeholders, and core strategy and actions.
- b) Advancing the implementation of universal principles and values (such as those embodied in the UN Global Compact) in business practice. All organizations can and should develop responsible lobbying over time through the adoption of a simple Responsible Lobbying Framework.
The report also importantly identifies five areas in which business and civil society lobbyists can and should improve public policymaking:
- Provide technical and scientific analysis that helps policymakers in increasingly complex policy arenas.
- Identify the likely economic, social and environmental impacts of public policies at local, national and global levels.
- Act as brokers, synthesising disparate policy positions for officials, easing information flows and seeking potential compromises.
- Mitigate the short-term approach to policy-making imposed by electoral cycles, opinion polls, focus groups and institutional rivalries.
- Provide a voice for those unable or unwilling to participate in decision-making directly.