Should think tanks register as lobbyists?

6 June 2012

This is an old post but still relevant to many think tanks: Lobby transparency spotlight falls on think-tanks. According to the anti fraud commissioner at the European Commission in 2009:

When the scheme was conceived, “we clearly said that lobbying means ‘all activities carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making processes of the European institutions’,” Kallas told an EPC briefing on Friday.

Think tanks, according to this definition should register. A quick search of the register shows that quite a few organisations that label themselves as think tanks have registered.

Now, why should think tanks register. According to the Commission, think tanks have changed and are no longer just universities without students. They are no longer able to guarantee academic integrity and are in fact driven by values and interests. This is very telling of the view that the EC has of think tanks (very German: more academic and passive than entrepreneurial).

What is interesting is that in 2009 Friends of Europe said it would not register:

Responding to the commissioner’s remarks, Friends of Europe Secretary-General Giles Merritt told EurActiv that “we have no intention of signing up as lobbyists” and expressed surprise at Kallas’s comments.

“I personally object to being called a lobbyist. I have been in Brussels for thirty years and I have never once lobbied. I don’t even know what a lobbyist does,” he said.

“I was a bit surprised that [the Commission] went to another think-tank to single us out,” Merritt continued, adding that he had responded by writing to the EU executive to invite Commissioner Kallas and other think-tank representatives to publicly debate on the issue on Friends of Europe premises.

But it has. Maybe because the lobby register was relabeled Transparency Register. Interesting.