Opinion of the Conference of INGOs
on Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1908 (2010) on
“Lobbying in a democratic society (European Code of conduct on lobbying)”

The Conference of INGOs thanks the Ministers’ Deputies for sending it the Parliamentary Assembly’s recommendation on “Lobbying in a democratic society (European Code of conduct on lobbying)” for information and comment.

At its plenary meeting on Thursday 24 June 2010, the Conference of INGOs decided by a majority, with four votes against and two abstentions, in favour of the idea of drafting a European code of conduct on lobbying to be adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The Conference of INGOs would like to take an active part in the group appointed to draw up this code. The issues at stake are very important because such a code would help to smooth relations between citizens, economic players and political groups.

The first article of the code should describe its specific purpose: it is intended first and foremost to enhance the participatory aspects of democracy.

This goal can be achieved through the regulation of lobbying activities but would not be served by any restriction on freedom of association.

Ultimately, the aim is to enable as many stakeholders as possible to participate as much as possible so that we can look beyond private, corporatist interests and pinpoint what is in the general interest, thus legitimising political decisions. In other words, the idea is to help civil society as a whole to become more involved in consultation processes set in motion by the political authorities. This is also the aim of the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process drawn up by the Conference of INGOs. In this Code, it is submitted that a constructive relationship between the authorities and NGOs should be based on the following common principles: participation, trust, accountability and transparency, and independence.

The INGOs subscribe fully to the principle of transparency put forward by the Parliamentary Assembly and share its view that it is essential in order to restore the trust of 800 million Europeans in politics. They are increasingly committed to applying this principle to themselves and have placed it at the heart of the charters of good NGO governance that they have drawn up.

As to lobbying activities properly speaking, the code should be designed to promote free expression for all parties and the principle of transparency should allow everyone to influence debate without having to use means of pressure or manipulation which undermine democratic debate.

In this respect, the NGOs feel that they make a positive contribution to lobbying activities. Common rules might therefore be desirable.

As regards the methods to be promoted, those drafting the code should try to identify pragmatic, efficient and simple solutions that can be properly implemented and not impose any unnecessary restrictions on economic players and associations, which would probably be circumvented anyway by the least transparent organisations.

The proposals in paragraph 11 of the Assembly recommendation already outline some of these methods:

- encouraging all stakeholders to participate;
- enhancing transparency, in particular through declarations of the funding sources of the lobby or NGO concerned;
- preventing conflicts of interest among people and bodies involved in lobbying activities.

The Council of Europe has a unique means of involving civil society in its activities in the form of the Conference of INGOs, which comprises 366 INGOs with participatory status, representing in turn several thousands of NGOs throughout Europe. This enables civil society to make a contrasting yet comprehensive contribution representing all its diversity.