Lobbies in Spain: political pressure groups with many regulatory gaps

The lobbies or pressure groups are organizations with the capacity to influence the design of public policies and there are several types: business and economic associations, unions, legal offices, citizen groups, religious groups and NGOs.

In general, they are little-known organizations within public activity. Society relates them to the business world in general and to the power of large corporations in particular.

They are characterized by the opacity of their activities, the lack of transparency in their financing or the promotion of so-called revolving doors between the public and private sectors. That is why they are generally considered organizations without democratic legitimacy.

Part of this negative image is attributed to the lack of control and supervision of these organizations, highlighting the lack of regulation of lobbying activity. In this sense, the European Union and particularly Spain are no exception.

Its activity in Spain has been trying to regulate for years, there are even mentions of it in the wording of article 77 of the Constitution in 1978 (BOCG, January 5, 1978, p. 699. No. 44). Despite subsequent proposals, with legislative initiatives in the years 1993, 2008, 2014, 2019 or the 2021 draft, among others, the truth is that a unified national legislative framework has never been established for it.

The European control tool

The Treaty of Lisbon enables a legislative instrument for the registration of lobbies, the EU Transparency Register, the main European control tool. Business organizations can voluntarily include data such as the group’s headquarters, affiliation with companies, the sector, subsidies received or proposed legislative initiatives in the registry. Different associations such as Transparency International point out the voluntary nature of this registry as a differential factor that limits the transparency of the lobbies.

The Transparency Registry is not the only instrument for supervising the lobbies in Spain, since the current legislation leaves the possibility of voluntarily registering pressure groups in the hands of the autonomous communities. In Catalonia or Madrid, for example, from the Transparency Portal you can access registered entities, but there is no unified or unitary data, even with communities that lack these control mechanisms.

These differences between autonomous communities highlight the need for a comprehensive reform of lobbying regulations in Spain that guarantees accountability at the national and European level. The monitoring carried out at the national level is very relevant, since part of the lobbying activity is carried out in this area, not exclusively at the European level.

Principles of the reform

The proposal for regulation of interest groups was recovered during the year 2021, with the approach of the Draft Law on Transparency and Integrity in the Activities of Interest Groups. Although it has slowed down since the end of the last parliamentary year, it maintains recent allusions, even within the speech of the President of the Government within the Debate on the State of the Nation.

What principles does this draft propose? Does it include the demands made by the different associations? Can it be a first step for an effective registration in Spain?

The standard is based on an adaptation of the European Transparency Registry, adapting Spanish legislation to this model, avoiding contradictions in the control measures that hinder the implementation of the law. According to what is collected in it, among the most notable is:

  1. Register of pressure groups at a national level that complements all existing ones in the communities and provides one for those who do not have one. Like the European, it arises in principle as a volunteer. Data relating to the autonomous communities or public money received, where appropriate, would also be included.

  2. Code of conduct. As in the European case, it is constituted as an element linked to self-regulation, which starts from the entities themselves adapting to the new law. The establishment of this code would set common standards to unify lobbying activity in Spain.

  3. Legislative footprint. This mechanism (developed in regions such as Murcia) seeks to follow the evolution of legislative projects to verify their changes, which groups have influenced them and the meetings that have been held.

Limit your negative practices

These measures also seek to help reduce and limit negative practices associated with lobby Like revolving doors. Despite being voluntary and committing to self-regulation as a key point, a legal framework is urgently needed for an activity that is carried out intrinsically in democratic systems.

This may be the year in which Spain comes to have a law to control lobbies own, being able to be an example at an international level. Access to information and accountability to society are necessary to guarantee the functioning of modern democratic systems.

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