The inescapable regulation of 'lobbies' in Spain

Recently, the Plenary of the Congress of Deputies has accepted the processing of the initiative of the Socialist Group to modify the Chamber’s Regulations with the aim of regulate relations between deputies and interest groups; highlights of the initiative the creation of the public registry of interest groups in Congress, a code of conduct for the so-called ‘lobbyists’ and the obligation for the deputies of inform about this type of contact with stakeholders, including the identity of the people with whom they meet, as well as the dates and matters discussed in each case.

In parallel, the Ministry of Territorial Policy and Public Function opened, at the end of April, a prior public consultation on the Draft Bill of Transparency and Integrity in the Activities of Stakeholders in which, in general, the need to regulate the relations of these groups with the so-called public officials is raised, for the purposes of transparency and control of decisions that affect the public sphere.

These are two relevant initiatives that respond to the need for the relations of the Executive and Legislative Power with interest groups to be governed by a reasonable and homogeneous legal framework, as is the case in neighboring countries. Initiatives that deserve some reflections.

In the first place, a regulation of the so-called ‘lobbies’ it is as necessary as it is timely. But the starting point must go beyond more or less stereotyped wrong images. The ‘lobbies’ work in political systems with advanced democracies and they contribute to the participation of citizens in the elaboration of the laws and in the application of these. The social demand for the regulation of the exercise of the activity of the ‘lobby’ has been a constant during the last fifteen years. The proposal of Socialist Party it follows the path of the Transparency Law approved in 2013. Since then, the demands of civil society and the various national and international institutions have increased substantially, to the point of turning this debate into an unavoidable issue. The absence of a general national regulation makes it especially interesting to review the existing models in different autonomous communities, town halls and independent bodies.

Photo: Alfonso López, founder of Reti Spain.  (Carmen Castellón)

Second, the substance of the matter generates a lot of support. There is agreement on the need to create an instrument similar to the Registry of Transparency already existing in the European Parliament, the European Comission and the Council of the European Union. There is consensus in recognizing the importance of transparency in political decision-making and in strengthening the legal security of the rules.

It is unavoidable that there is equal treatment and the same degree of access to public representatives for all interest groups. In addition, this regulation will respond to the requirements of the Group of States Against Corruption (Greco) of Council of europe, which has drawn attention several times to Spain due to the absence of a mandatory public registry of interest groups in our country.

Third, the first of the initiatives pursues reform the Chamber’s regulations, so its effectiveness is limited to its own Congress, although it is likely that this same regulation will end up indirectly affecting the regulation of ‘lobbies’ at the national level and, in general, within the context of the Draft Transparency Law.

It is a challenge that must be addressed without delay in order to set the time on a watch that has been sadly overdue for too many years.

In short, these are positive initiatives, but any regulation that claims to be of use to the general interest must combine the need for transparency with the necessary flexibility for the development of work, both for elected officials and public officials. Both of them already assume a significant workload and no more bureaucratic burden should be added than necessary. In addition, future legislation should be careful with the dissemination of information when it affects matters that deserve protection, whether for commercial reasons, professional secrecy, intellectual and industrial property, or for regulatory requirements.

This is not a minor matter at all. The regulation of the activity of interest groups arises from article 9.2 of the Spanish constitution, which imposes on the public powers the obligation to facilitate the participation of all citizens in political, economic, cultural and social life. It is, therefore, a challenge that necessarily has to be addressed without delay in order to set a clock that is sadly overdue for too many years in Spain.

*Miguel Ferre is ‘senior partner’ and director of Public Affairs, Reputation and Sustainability of Kreab

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