The European Commission wants to highlight “disguised foreign influences”

“The EU is open to the world and actively cooperates with partners around the world. But when third country governments use interest representation activities to promote their objectives and influence democratic processes in the EU, these processes must be made transparent,” says the European executive.

“We cannot tolerate Putin or any other autocrat meddling in our democratic process in a disguised way,” said Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova, ahead of the 2024 European elections.

The proposal provides that entities carrying out interest representation activities on behalf of a third country must register in a transparency register. The main elements of data relating to these interest representation activities will be made available to the public. This concerns, for example, the amounts received each year, the third countries concerned and the main objectives of these activities.

The covered entities will also be required to keep records of key information or documents relating to their interest representation activity for a period of four years from the end of this activity.

Safeguards are provided to prevent these requirements from being misused to limit fundamental rights or unduly restrict civic space. Thus, independent supervisory authorities will be empowered to request limited data collections only in duly justified cases and in a proportionate manner.

The anti-corruption NGO Transparency International said it was disappointed. According to her, the EU is weakening its geopolitical credibility with “the equivalent of a law on foreign agents”. “This proposal is not only ineffective but also dangerous. The Commission itself has rightly criticized this type of legislation in the past, notably in Georgia and Hungary,” said Vitor Teixeira, from the European office of Transparency International.

The NGO also believes that the Commission should not only focus on foreign funding, but also on European funding. “If the Commission really wants to protect democracy, it should cast a wide net and strengthen transparency standards for all interest representatives, whether foreign-funded or not.”

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