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CORRUPTION

France must do more to curb lobbyists: report

France must to more to rein in undue influence from lobbyists despite being among a small group of countries with laws to curb their influence on policy-makers, Transparency International said in a new report.

France must do more to curb lobbyists: report
Transparency International says “the revolving door is spinning out of control” in Europe. Photo: Shutterstock

The report, released on Wednesday, showed that France ranked 11th out of 19 European countries surveyed with a score of 27 percent for meeting international standards and best practices.

“France still lags behind when it comes to the regulation of lobbying,” Daniel Freund of Transparency International told The Local. “What we are seeing in general is that putting a law in place is not going to fix the problem.”

“Sometimes older systems have a difficulty making meaningful reforms and often need big scandals for that to happen.”

Freund pointed to the case of the antidiabetic medication Mediator, which stayed on the French market despite evidence of its deadly effects and being banned in other countries. Freund said this case highlighted the influence of pharmaceutical companies in making public health decisions.

The report harshly criticizes Europe’s overall inability to control lobbying, stating that across the continent, “the revolving door is spinning out of control”.

“The report reveals that none of the countries assessed adequately control the revolving door, a key risk leading to undue influence on political decisions,” the report states.

Only seven of the 19 countries surveyed had regulations to limit lobbying’s influence – Austria, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. Still, according to the report, most regulations are ineffective.

“Although lobbying is an important part of a healthy democracy, the lax rules mean that businesses and other special interests with lots of money and friends in the right places in cities like Brussels, Rome and Berlin can easily influence politicians and the law-making process in their country to put profits before people,” the report states.

The report ranked 19 countries as well as three European institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Researchers assessed how well the countries and institutions combatted the excessive influence of lobbyists in political decisions, as well as the promotion of transparent and ethical practices.

Together, the institutions and countries scored 31 percent when measured against international lobbying standards and best practices.

“Across Europe, powerful individuals are largely able to move freely between the public and private sectors, leading to a potential political bias towards former employees, or an unfair advantage for certain interest groups – a phenomenon known as the ‘revolving door’” Transparency International states.

Slovenia scored the highest at 55 percent, followed by Lithuania at 50 percent and the United Kingdom at 44 percent. Hungary and Cyprus were at the very bottom.

The anti-corruption groups calls on EU institutions to adopt better lobbying regulations, such as establishing mandatory lobbyist registers where lobbyists must state who they represent, as well as publicly publishing a so-called “legislative footprint” that traces any outside input in legislation.

CORRUPTION

Bolloré hits back at ‘condescending treatment of Africans’

French industrialist Vincent Bolloré has gone on the offensive over corruption charges brought against him over his business dealings in Africa, claiming the case was rooted in prejudice about the continent.

Bolloré hits back at 'condescending treatment of Africans'
Conakry, the port in Guinea at the centre of the graft accusations. Photo: Cellou Binani/AFP
In an opinion article published on Sunday in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, the head of the Bolloré Group, who was charged in connection with the awarding of two lucrative port concessions in West Africa, said the continent was wrongfully portrayed in France as a “land of misrule, even corruption”.
   
“People imagine heads of state deciding by themselves to award huge contracts to unscrupulous investors,” he wrote. 
   
Investigating magistrates on Thursday charged the 66-year-old over allegations that his group's communications arm undercharged the presidents of Guinea and Togo for work on their election campaigns as sweeteners for contracts to operate Conakry port and Lomé port.
   
Defending himself against the claims, Bolloré wrote: “Who could imagine that a few hundred thousand euros in spending on communications, which were accounted for in a transparent manner… determined hundreds of millions of euros in investment in port operations that require significant technical know-how, obtained through international tenders?”
   
Bolloré, one of France's most powerful businessmen, sits at the head of a sprawling business empire with revenues of 18.3 billion euros ($22.4 billion) in 2017 and interests in everything from construction and logistics to media, advertising and agriculture.
   
Africa accounts for about 20 percent of its turnover, excluding the Vivendi media group which is controlled by the family-run Bolloré Group.
 
France 'will need Africa'
 
In the letter titled “Should we get out of Africa?”, Bolloré said the French investigation had made him question whether he should pursue his activities on the continent, where he had invested 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion).
   
“I have realised over the past few days that what we have been doing in good faith for a long time, seen through the prism of those who consider the continent to be run by lawless people, is fertile ground for legitimate  suspicion,” he wrote.
   
Slamming the “inaccurate and condescending treatment of Africans” he warned that “soon, France will need Africa more than the other way round.”  
 
The nearly 200-year-old Bolloré Group operates a dozen container ports in Africa and has stakes in several others, along with three railway concessions and interests in palm oil production.
   
Its communications arm Havas worked on Guinean President Alpha Condé's winning 2010 election campaign.
   
Months after taking office, Condé terminated the contract of Conakry's existing port operator and gave it to rival Bolloré. Havas also worked on the communications strategy of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe.
   
After Gnassingbe's re-election to a second term in 2010, the Bolloré Group won the 35-year Lomé port contract. Both decisions were challenged by other bidders.
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