No sustainability without transparency

Having recently joined the EU Transparency Register, we talked to Prof. Justin Greenwood about sustainability and accountability.

A Professor Emeritus at Aberdeen Business School and a visiting Professor at the College of Europe in Bruges, Justin Greenwood is seen as an authoritative voice in the world of lobbying. He has dedicated his career to understanding the process of interest representation.

The irresistible force of transparency

Prof. Greenwood sees lobbying as a balancing act: on one side, there is a need for public information to keep public institutions accountable. On the other, institutions require a “space to think”. Nevertheless, there is an “irresistible force of transparency” emerging in our societies, with an increasing appetite for voluntary measures to increase accountability.

Some EU member states, for example, are now voluntarily publishing their meetings with lobbyists at their Permanent Representations in Brussels. Recently, there has also been a debate surrounding the corporate sponsorship of EU presidencies, with the European Ombudsman recommending against it.

There is always room for improvement, but Prof. Greenwood remarks that the EU’s Transparency system is now “one of the best in the Western world”.

Brussels: a marketplace of ideas

Transparency will help to create what Prof. Greenwood calls “a marketplace of ideas, where all proposals can be debated openly, and the best one can win”.

In that marketplace, policymakers are becoming more issue-focused and sustainability is seen as a top priority. As Prof. Greenwood says, “it’s becoming less about who you lobby for, and more about what”.

At #SustainablePublicAffairs, we predict that the public affairs market will change in a similar way: PA firms will also become more issue focused and more PA brands that “stand for something” will start to emerge.

That is why we are building a brand you can trust in the lobbying world, focused on a single issue: sustainability. We are there to help create better regulatory conditions for sustainable front-runners.

Transparency is needed for accountability

More issue-focus also means that advisers are linked more closely to their chosen domain. They will go from the corridors (or lobbies) to the main stage of policymaking. However, this also means they need to take more responsibility for their advice. Any public affairs advisor should therefore ask him or herself the question: Would I openly take personal responsibility for this case?

Transparency is the best test for this kind of question. Prof. Greenwood agrees: “Transparency is one of the first building blocks towards accountability and there is often a strong link between the best public affairs practitioners and high levels of transparency”.

That is why the core values of #SustainablePublicAffairs are positivity, integrity and… transparency. Prof. Greenwood likes that because, as he puts it, “without transparency there is no accountability and without accountability, there is no sustainability”.