Transparency: How are lobbies regulated in France?

Following the provisional detention of the vice-president of the European Parliament due to suspicion of corruption in connection with the influence policy led by Qatar in Europe, the supervision of lobbying activities is in focus. The European regime is a model of transparency in this area, despite this scandal. But what about France, when the first attempts to regulate political life were made after the Cahuzac affair?

  • The French definition of lobbying

In France, lobbying is considered to be any communication initiated by an interest representative to certain public officials with the aim of influencing public decision-making.

This “initiative criterion”, introduced by the decree implementing the Sapin II law of 9 December 2016, makes the French definition more restrictive than the European definition, which includes “all activities carried out with the aim of influencing EU policies. »

Didier Migaud, president of the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP), created in 2013, thus lamented during the presentation of the HATVP’s annual report that “the ‘big’ [lobbies] are “systematically invited” by public decision-makers, and therefore do not need to declare their lobbying activities. This is e.g. the case of Dassault, specified the chairman of HATVP, which would nevertheless in all likelihood declare more activities in the library managed by HATVP

  • Obligations for interest representatives

The Sapin II law obliges interest representatives to register in a directory managed by HATVP, which records the topics discussed and the public decisions in question. A violation of these declarations is punishable by one year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. 2,400 entities have been registered to date for more than 40,000 declared lobbying activities.

These are companies, associations or NGOs whose employee or member has “the main or regular activity of influencing public decision-making”, in particular by contacting members of the government or their cabinets, parliamentarians or their collaborators, as well as directors of independent administrative authorities . These obligations have been extended to include the presidents of intermunicipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants on 1eh July 2022.

Contrary to European rules on the subject, associations of elected representatives, political parties, trade unions and employers’ organizations, as well as religious associations, in France are not subject to these obligations that weight interest representatives.

Also on these declaration obligations in the register kept by HATVP, the French model pales in comparison to the European system. The names of ministers, deputies, senators or their collaborators who are contacted are not necessarily specified. Only action types are logged in this folder. In addition, business groups are not required to aggregate their data, which sometimes makes it difficult to cross-check the data to truly assess an interest representative’s lobbying activity.

  • And for parliamentarians?

As far as parliamentarians are concerned, the Sapin II law notably prohibits gifts “of significant value” or remuneration for participation in a conference or symposium. Similarly, the 2017 Law on the Moralization of Public Life establishes an expulsion system for parliamentarians who believe they are in a conflict of interest, prohibiting them from lobbying in parallel with their mandate, as do their collaborators. Ministers and members of their cabinet are also concerned.

The assemblies have also implemented internal mechanisms for many years. A code of conduct drawn up in 2011 thus establishes a register of interest representatives with the possibility of seizing the ethics committee, in the Senate or in the National Assembly in the event of a breach of this code. As with any internal regulation in Parliament, it is the office of the relevant Assembly that can then take any sanction. Gifts or donations worth more than 150 euros to senators are thus prohibited and must be declared below this value.

  • What opportunities for improvement?

A parliamentary report from 2021, written by the former MoDem deputy, Sylvain Waserman, former chairman of the Bureau’s delegation in charge of interest representatives and study groups, thus formulates recommendations for better regulation of lobbying activity.

The former deputy speaker of the National Assembly proposes in particular the publication of parliamentary agendas according to the model with the obligations to which the members of the European Commission are subject. EU commissioners can only meet with organizations “registered in the transparency register” and are required to report publicly on their appointments and “information about these meetings.” »

Sylvain Waserman also suggests making the “sourcing” of amendments mandatory, that is, when an amendment has been put to an MP by an interest representative, to spell it out in the justification for the amendment. Some parliamentarians already use this practice. “This amendment from the Hespul association aims, for the sake of simplification, to expand the possibility of transferring any excess electricity free of charge”, we can read, for example, in the justification for an amendment from the environment chairman. group, Guillaume Gontard, on the bill to accelerate the development of renewable energy.


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