Central Europe Activ

I am not a lobbyist
Pirker, MEP, not lobbyist

It appears to me that the term ‘lobbying’ is not very clear in Austria. Disgraced former MEP Ernst Strasser boasted that he was both a lobbyist and an MEP. His successor, Hubert Pirker owns a lobbying firm yet he believes that he is not a lobbyist. If the European Parliament wants to avoid more embarrassment, it should exactly answer the question: who is a lobbyist?

Ernst Strasser, former interior minister and MEP has resigned after Josef Pröll, the chief of the Austrian MEP has found his explanation for the Sunday Times video shallow and ordered him to leave to resign from all positions. strasser was recorded to boast that ‘I am a lobbyist’. Lobbying in the lobby of your own parliamentary chamber should be naturally such a conflict of interest that should not be allowed by voters, ethical codes and laws.

However, Strasser’s college, Adrian Severin will bring the case to a stress-test when he claims that ‘he did not do anything that was, let’s say, illegal or against any normal behaviour we have here’.

The ÖVP party cannot leave the scandal behind. Die Krone, an Austrian daily newspaper confronted Hubert Pirker, Strasser’s successor as MEP with the following sentence: “Mit meiner Agentur liefere ich Ihrem Unternehmen rasch und laufend die aktuellsten EU- Informationen und gestalte die Kontakte. (With my agency I deliver your business the latest EU information and make you the contacts)”. He acknowledged that this is his sentence taken from his own consultancy’s website that he will suspend in the European Parliament. Yet he denies that he is a lobbyist, and apparently he is not registered as a lobbyist in the EP. (By the way, here is a very old interview with Pirker on EurActiv.com).

The Austrian People’s Party had not much of a choice, given that Austria is among those member states where MEPs are actually selected by the electorate and not party chiefs. Based on the preferential votes cast, Pirker is the next-in-waiting on the ÖVP list.

I think that future legal procedures involving Severin, and the case of Pirker should set the standards both for MEP conduct rules and electoral rules governing the next European Parliament. Ironically, some of these rules have to be amended by the European Parliament itself.

Although EPACA is technically right to claim that Strasser and Pirker are no real lobbyist, it appears to me that the definition of lobby and parliamentary chamber should be separated so clearly that even Austrian politicians and voters see the difference, not to mention Romanians. I think ALTER-EU is right here with claims on better ethics regulation and more lobby transparency.

Updates: Magyarul itt olvasható az EurActiv.hu tudósítása. As @jonworth pointed out, the People’s Party and Socialist have lost votes in the 2009 European elections in Austria. The gain went to FPÖ and Hans-Peter Martin, an independent MEP and crusader against corruption and wasteful spending in the EP. The voters have suspected something.

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