For Openness €“ and Open Source - We Need Transparency

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Transparency is a close cousin of openness, and it's becoming increasingly, er, clear that we need the former in order to obtain the latter. A new study [.pdf] confirms that the voluntary lobbying register, introduced by the European Commission in 2008 as a sop to those who were pressing for full transparency, is just a joke:

The register is voluntary and its disclosure requirements are very weak: organisations are not compelled to disclose the names of individual lobbyists, nor the specific dossiers being lobbied on. Financial requirements are very broadly defined, easily allowing for mis- and under-reporting. Most of the time, the information available relates to the previous year (or even the year before). Companies and organisations are asked to update their entries just once a year, resulting in inconsistent and unreliable data.

An analysis of the lobbying activities and register entries of Europe’s top 50 companies highlights both their secretive practices and the overall weakness of the EU lobby register. It shows that the voluntary approach, which has been favoured by the European Commission, cannot ensure proper transparency around lobbying in the EU. Too many European companies are choosing not to register. At the same time, several of the same companies hold access passes to the European Parliament – clearly revealing that they are involved in lobbying activities and highlighting the failings of the Commission’s register. Cross-checking entries for companies in the EU and the US registers reveals that more EU-based companies are registered overseas than in Europe. Comparing the registrations of the companies that are signed up to both registers reveals significant discrepancies between the EU and the US figures, further illustrating how a mandatory approach is an absolute prerequisite for genuine transparency.

Moreover, this is not an issue of purely theoretical interest to the open source world. An article on Euractiv.com covering this new report raises the interesting case of CompTIA, “a trade group ally of Microsoft's” as an earlier Computerworld UK story put it. Here's the relevant paragraph from Euractiv:

a cursory glance at the website of CompTIA, which represents the global IT industry, gives no details of the association's membership. Asked by EurActiv to comment on this, Hugo Lueders of CompTIA's Brussels office said such details were "trade secrets" that the association's members did not wish to make known.

The idea that the names of members of a major trade organisation could be “trade secrets” would be pretty amusing at the best of times, but in a context of increasing openness and even nominal political transparency, is simply risible. It means that it is not possible for politicians or members of the public to see who exactly is behind CompTIA's lobbying efforts, or to understand the real agendas behind its actions. The CompTIA's reluctance to release even something as basic as its membership list can only be viewed with a certain suspicion: after all, as we are constantly reminded these days, those with nothing to hide, have nothing to fear...

Given that major global players are not playing along with even the current undemanding voluntary lobbying register, it's clearly time to make the whole thing mandatory and rigorous. I'd like to suggest that anyone interested in openness - especially those in the open source world - should add campaigning for a completely transparent lobbying process in Europe to their list of priorities.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

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