Officials, ministers discussing rules to make lobbying meetings public

Session Hall at the Riigikogu. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Justice and members of the government are discussing if and how to make all meetings between ministers and lobbyists public after recommendations were made by the Council of Europe.

The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) is expecting Estonia to make these changes in the near future after giving similar recommendations two years ago. At the end of September, a progress report was due from Estonia but not much has been made.

Head of the Analysis Service of the Ministry of Justice Mari-Liis Sööt said of the seven recommendations, Estonia has made clear progress in two areas.

"We have submitted a draft to the government that would oblige political advisers to submit an annual declaration of interests in the future," she said. There are currently approximately 40 advisers in Estonia. There are eight advisers to the prime minister and each minister can have up to three advisers. 

In addition, when assessing their corruption risks, ministries have begun to take into account the risks that come from ministers and their advisers. 

But with GRECO's five other recommendations, Estonia is not doing so well.

One of the most difficult concerns establishing lobbying rules. Sööt said there is nothing wrong with lobbying in itself and it is perfectly normal for different interest groups to share their views with politicians. But, at the same time, lobbying is becoming more and more professional.

"In the United States, for example, it was estimated a few years ago that companies spend more than $3 billion to represent their interests in parliament or the executive. Most of the information which affects them never reaches the public," Sööt said.

GRECO recommends that all meetings with lobbyists be made public. At the end of August, the Ministry of Justice introduced the idea to the government. 

The members of the government did not dismiss the idea, but a discussion arose as to whether and what activities should be made public. For example, what should be done if someone comes to a minister after work and tells them about their wishes. Should this meeting be recorded somewhere? 

Such a system was deemed to be too bureaucratic for ministers. So the officials were asked to study what is being done by other governments abroad and come back with ideas. 

Sööt said initially the ministry wants to put together so-called soft instructions. She said lobbying rules should be introduced step by step. 

Sööt also said it was important for a small country like Estonia to follow the recommendation otherwise it's international reputation could be at risk.

GRECO's objective is to improve the capacity of its members to fight corruption by monitoring their compliance with Council of Europe anti-corruption standards through a dynamic process of mutual evaluation and peer pressure.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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