While the European Commission and the European Parliament are to be commended for having jointly established a 'Transparency Register', the point remains that making information publicly available does not automatically make information useful. Indeed, for transparency policy to be effective, the information must be both easy to understand and easy to utilize. Users must be able to register their choices clearly, and disclosers must have the ability and incentive to respond meaningfully.

There is a need for a system that would allow citizens to respond meaningfully. Knowing the rough how much and even a bit of the when is good, but it's only part of the equation. Citizens also need to know who is advocating for what and why and how. Such information would allow EC civil servants, MEPs, and their staff, journalists, and the public to be better informed.

In order to make the EU advocacy process more effective and democratic, consideration should be given by both the EC and the EP to creating a new web-based system which I called "TOCQUE (after Alexis de Tocqueville) but which of course could be changed to any other preferred name.

TOCQUE would be a forum for interest group representatives, including lobbyists, constituents and other interested parties to come together to publicly and transparently debate legislation, and in the process provide EU civil servants, MEPs, journalists and the public access to the best available arguments, information, and ideas about public policy- all in a way that is easily searchable and sortable.

Separate pages would exist for each proposed legislation introduced. Since legislation ranges in complexity and importance, TOCQUE will reflect that. Certain pieces of legislation are incredibly complex and may require multiple sub-pages for separate titles, sections, and amendments. Innovative thinkers and programmers would help develop and guide the architecture of the site as it evolves (Existing online forums such as Wikipedia have developed innovative mechanisms to usefully aggregate information and could serve as models).

In order to make TOCQUE more easily navigable, different types of participants should use the system in different ways.

1. Registered Interest Group Representatives

Registered interest group representatives will be required to first briefly state their client organization's position on the proposed legislation (or amendments or sections of the proposed legislation) and if they wish, to provide a simple yes or no recommendation. This will make it easy for anybody including EC civil servants, MEPs and Assistant MEPs, to see who is for and who is opposed to particular policies. Interest group representatives will be required whether they are representing non-profits, for-profits, organizations of for-profits such as trade and business associations) or member state, local, or foreign governments.

Interest group representatives will also have the opportunity to provide as many supporting documents and arguments as they like, and they can update their pages as much as they like as new information becomes available (or they wish to respond to ongoingt events). They will be able to post separate pages for each state or district if they wish, in order to provide more targeted information to help individual MEPs better understand how their constituencies might be affected.

2. Constituents

Currently, if constituents wish to share their opinion with a Member of the European Parliament, they can write a letter, call the office,or send an e-mail. However, this eats up significant staff time to respond and often, it must be said citizens have little idea what happens to their comments.

TOCQUE will provide a systematic and central forum for constituents to register their opinions and for the MEPs to tally and track constituents opinion. It will also allow to see how their opinions compare to other constituent opinions.

Constituent opinion would work similarly to interest group representatives input, but would be organized by member state and electoral districts and tallied accordingly. Every taxpayer within the EU would get an account based on his taxpayer number or any other selected ID number. Each account would be able to provide one up or down vote on a proposed legislation (or amendment or section of the proposed legislation), and one opportunity to comment. Comments will require citizens to use their real names (this can be enforced through the use of the taxpayer number or any other chosen ID number to log in.). The reason is to encourage high-level civil debate and to prevent the kind of free-for-al name calling that frequently arises in anonymous comment threads. Up-or down votes, however, can remain anonymous.

3. Members of the European Parliament

Members of the European Parliament often wish to advocate publicly for particular policies, especially if they are the sponsors or co-sponsors of proposals and amendments. Therefore, they would also be entitled to post pages that make the case for a particular proposal, section, or amendment and provide useful information. Additionally, they would also be able to post their individual district/member state back home sub-pages if they wish to make public their position on a given issue, or explain why they plan to or did vote a particular way. This will make it easy for constituents to find out where their MEPs stand on issues.


Those who wish to use TOCQUE to research lobbying efforts would be able to search by proposals and within proposals by section. One would be able to see which organisations are opposed and which are in favour, and each of those organizations would have a page outlining their arguments, providing relevant information and would have contact information should they wish to learn more. One would be able to see what constituent opinion is like by district/state or an entire member state.

TOCQUE would be of immense help to MEPs and their Assistants who need to learn something very quickly about an issue. The sheer volume of information that MEPs and staff have to cover means that they are often scrambling to research issues. This would help them to do this more systematically, potentially transforming the nature of some staffer's jobs.

The same goes for journalists. In the 24/7 news cycle, deadlines are even more relentless. Rather than just relying on the most visible or recent press releases, journalists would also have immediate access to a list of anybody who is interested in a particular issue, giving them more choices on who to interview and the ability to find a broader range of perspectives in a timely fashion.

The public and other interested parties will now see who is advocating for what, what their arguments are, and what information they are basing those arguments on. Rather than endless reporting speculating about who is saying what behind closed doors and how special interests are twisting arms, this could shift the public debate more to the actual arguments by making those actual arguments and facts more easily accessible and comparable.

Public interest groups will have a more level playing field on which to compete. They also will be able to see what corporations are arguing, and will more easily be able to respond to these allegations. Likewise, corporations can respond to any unfounded allegations their critics might be spouting.

Why Interest Group Representatives and Lobbyists will want to participate?

Interest group representatives and lobbyists frequently point out that what they do is to make the decision-making process more effective by providing valuable policy expertise. If that is indeed the case, interest group representatives and lobbyists should welcome the opportunity to participate. By making what they do transparent, this system could help dispel popular myths that all interest group representatives do, and in particular lobbyists is to put the closed-door hurt on craven lawmakers. Instead, by adopting this system, lobbyists in particular could improve their standing with the public by directing attention to the education and arguments part of lobbying.

In order for TOCQUE to be effective, it must become the standard conduit for interest group representatives and lobbyists alike. The most straightforward way would be to simply require that all registered interest groups representatives (those registered in the Transparency Register) must participate. However, this is unlikely as the present Transparency Register is sort of voluntary and beside it would be challenging to enforce.

A more likely way for it to take hold is for a few adopter MEPs offices to signal that they will only seriously entertain interest representation and constituent opinion that comes through TOCQUE. The rationale for this could be simple: "If you can't make a public case for your position, we aren't interested in talking with you". Once certain MEPs announce their intentions to use TOCQUE as their primary source for learning about issues, interest group representatives will have a clearer incentive to participate. Once some interest group representatives and lobbyists start using TOCQUE, those on the other side of the issue will want to be able to respond to accusations. As the benefit of the system becomes clear, all MEPs and interest group representatives, including lobbyists will adopt TOCQUE as the primary clearinghouse for public policy debate and discussion.

Certainly TOCQUE will not and should not entirely replace in-person meetings and phone calls and e-mails, nor is it designed to. In many ways it has the potential to make in-person meetings more productive since MEPs and their staff would have more opportunities to brush up on current information and arguments in advance of those meetings.

There is no questions that today the EU institutions make decisions that impact a remarkable array of societal interests and that the complexities and complications of the 21st century governance require diffuse and specialized knowledge. Rather than try to circumscribe attempts to influence policy, we should have more of it and we should make interest representation to the EU maximally accessible and accountable.

Last but least the successful implementation of the TOCQUE system should serve as a benchmark for EU member states. The EU Transparency Initiative has fallen short in this respect unfortunately. Perhaps the TOCQUE system will trigger a greater interest in making the advocacy process at the Member State level more effective and democratic also.  

AALEP welcomes your remarks and comments





Add new comment