Kalle Darmstad, European Policy Officer, IOGT-NTO
Isn’t it strange how you would struggle to find a law firm or big corporation without strict rules on how to approach conflicts of interests among its staff, clients and competitors, but there is little to be found in this regard among many public institutions? The question also applies to the EU-institutions. Brussels is the world’s second most lobby-dense city, but the European Parliament provides surprisingly little support to MEPs and their assistants having to manoeuvre in this world.
The lack of discussion around this led to IOGT-NTO launching a project focusing on developing guidelines for how MEPs and their assistants can avoid conflicts of interests in public health policy-making.
Inspiration came from Article 5.3 in the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC was ground-breaking in that it recognised the problem of actors with conflicts of interests engaging in tobacco policy-making processes. The reasoning can easily be extended to the alcohol industry and the rising cannabis industry, but can also be applied to the public health field in general.
When it comes to public health lobbying, conflicts of interests in policy-making can be said to occur when an actor is unreliable because of a clash between their commercial interest and what is best for public health. Actors without conflicts of interests in one area can have them in another, so, with few exceptions, this requires a case-to-case approach.
Nonetheless, what unites these situations, and makes them different to ‘regular’ public health lobbying, is that when actors engage in public health policy areas in which they have commercial and other vested interests, it is reasonable to expect more than just transparency from policy-makers. Many MEPs and assistants are aware of these expectations, but not always certain how to approach them.
That’s where the conflict of interests guidelines come in.
The guidelines are based on the practical challenges facing parliamentary offices. Talking with MEPs, their assistants, NGOs and legal experts working on EU and lobbying issues, eleven key points emerged. The eleven points range from considerations around conflicts of interests that MEPs should keep in mind to hands-on tips of what can be done before or around lobby meetings to minimise exposure.
The hope is that the guidelines will start the discussion, and provide the support needed, for individual MEP offices, national delegations and party groups to develop coherent approaches to lobbyism by actors with commercial interests in conflict with public health. From a civil society point of view, the document can also serve as the basis for a workshop, be used in the EP-elections or serve as inspiration for national level adaptations.
Currently, IOGT-NTO is looking for more civil society organisations to join in and endorse the guidelines. This adds strength and credibility to the work and gives you the right to use and work with the guidelines yourself. If you think your organisation could be interested, you are more than welcome to contact me at email@example.com for more information.
European Policy Officer, IOGT-NTO