Regulation of lobbying

General

Is lobbying self-regulated by the industry, or is it regulated by the government, legislature or an independent regulator? What are the regulator’s powers?

Lobbying activities towards public authorities are subject to transparency and control regulations under the Law on Transparency in Public Life (No. 2013-907 dated 11 October 2013), as amended by the Law on Transparency, Anti-Corruption and Modernisation of Economic Life (No. 2016-1691, known as Sapin II, dated 9 December 2016).

An independent administrative authority, the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP) is in charge of enforcing ethical obligations, preventing conflicts of interests, counselling and advising public officials or administrations, and promoting transparency in public life.

Upon request of an association, a public official, a representative of interests (ie, a lobbyist) or, on its own initiative, the HATVP, has powers to force the production of any relevant document to accomplish its objective. Upon request to the liberty and custody judge of the Paris Court of First Instance, the HATVP may also carry out verifications on-site.

Whenever it finds that a representative of interests has violated its obligations (reporting, integrity, etc), the HATVP may summon the representative of interests to respect its obligations. The HATVP may also address to any public official who has been in contact with the breaching representative of interests a confidential opinion advising him or her of the situation.

Definition

Is there a definition or other guidance as to what constitutes lobbying?

Under the Law on Transparency in Public Life, as amended by Sapin II, the notion of lobbying derives from the definition of ‘representatives of interests’, which means any private legal person, public entity or public group exercising industrial and commercial activities, or any craftsperson, whose executives’, employees’ or members’ main or recurring activity consists in influencing public decisions, in particular the content of a law or of a regulatory act, by making contact with any of the public officials listed in the Law on Transparency in Public Life (see question 9).

Registration and other disclosure

Is there voluntary or mandatory registration of lobbyists? How else is lobbying disclosed?

A representative of interests must register to a unique register (the Register) established by the HATVP, within two months of the date it fulfils at least one of the conditions set by the Law on Transparency in Public Life (ie, when lobbying accounts for more than half of its activity or when it has had at least 10 instances of contact with a public official over the past 12 months). If any of its information changes, the representative of interests shall update it on the Register within a month. The Register is common to the government, the Senate, the National Assembly and the territorial collectivities.

Activities subject to disclosure or registration

What communications must be disclosed or registered?

The scope of activities subject to registration covered by the Law on Transparency in Public Life applies to any representative of interests who attempts to influence a public official mentioned in the list of specific persons, including, without limitation, government members, members of ministers’ offices, Members of Parliament, collaborators of the President, political advisers and administrative entities’ directors, and local public servants.

Pursuant to Decree No. 2017-867 on the Electronic Register of Representatives of Interests dated 9 May 2017, any representative of interests must disclose to the Register all the actions it has taken to influence a public official, in particular:

  • organising informal discussions or face-to-face meetings;
  • arranging an interview with a public officer at the request of a third party;
  • inviting people to or organising events, meetings or promotional activities;
  • establishing a regular correspondence (by email, mail, etc);
  • sending petitions, open letters and leaflets;
  • organising public debates, marches and strategies of influence on the internet;
  • organising hearings, formal consultations on legislative acts or other open consultations;
  • providing suggestions to influence the drafting of a public decision; and
  • communicating information and expertise to public officials with the aim of convincing them.
Entities and persons subject to lobbying rules

Which entities and persons are caught by the disclosure rules?

A representative of interests is considered to be any private legal person, public entity or public group carrying out industrial and commercial activities or any craftsperson, whose executives’, employees’ or members’ main or recurring activity consists of influencing public decisions, including the content of one or more legislative or regulatory measures, by making contact with a public official listed in the Law on Transparency in Public Life (see question 9). The representative of interests may either lobby for itself or for a third party.

The Decree on the Electronic Register of Representatives of Interests further clarifies the practical scope of the representation of interests by providing that a representative of interests is considered as having a main or recurring lobbying activity when lobbying accounts for more than half of its activity or when it has had at least 10 instances of contact over the past 12 months with a public official mentioned in the Law on Transparency in Public Life.

The above-mentioned Law also applies to non-profit organisations, associations and professional unions. However, the Law excludes from its scope of application any elected persons, political parties, specific professional unions and any religious associations.

Lobbyist details

What information must be registered or otherwise disclosed regarding lobbyists and the entities and persons they act for ? Who has responsibility for registering the information?

Any representative of interests must disclose specific information to the Register, including its identity if it is a natural person, or when it is a legal person: the identity of its executives and of the people in charge of the representation of interests within the entity; the field of its representatives of interests’ activities; the actions taken towards the public officials mentioned in the Law on Transparency in Public Life and the amount of expenditure dedicated to these actions; the number of persons employed in the representation of interests; its sales revenue for the previous year; the professional federations or associations in relation to the interests represented and of which the representative of interests is a member; and, if it is representing a third party, the client’s identity.

When the representative of interests is a natural person he or she must register on the HATVP’s website. Whenever the representative of interests is a legal person, a natural person must be appointed as the operational contact to proceed with the registration. Upon the initial registration, the operational contact may then designate one or more other contacts responsible for the production of the relevant information required by the HATVP.

Content of reports

When must reports on lobbying activities be submitted , and what must they include?

Any representative of interests must provide, at the latest three months after the end of its fiscal year by electronic means to the HATVP, specific information concerning the previous year, including:

  • the nature of the public decisions that its actions were targeted towards;
  • the type of actions taken;
  • the subjects of the actions, identified by their object and field of intervention;
  • the categories of public officials mentioned in the Law on Transparency in Public Life with whom it had contact;
  • if applicable, the identity of the third parties for whom the actions were performed;
  • the amount of expenditure it dedicated to representation activities for the year; and
  • if applicable, the amount of the sales revenue of the previous year derived from its representation activities.
Financing of the registration regime

How is the registration system funded?

The Register is the responsibility of the HATVP, which is an independent administrative authority (ie, it acts on behalf of the state but is not subject to the government’s authority). As such, it is affiliated to the government for budget matters but has financial autonomy. The registration system depends on public funding.

Public access to lobbying registers and reports

Is access to registry information and to reports available to the public?

The Register is freely accessible on the HATVP’s website to any user. For each representative of interests, the HATVP makes a document available that includes all the information the representative of interests has provided. The information provided by a representative of interests to this Register remains public for five years.

Code of conduct

Is there a code of conduct that applies to lobbyists and their practice?

The Law on Transparency in Public Life provides guidelines that any representative of interests must commit to respecting during the course of its activity. In particular, it provides that it shall, in all circumstances, behave with probity and integrity, and, in particular, it must:

  • declare its identity, the organisation for which it works and the interests or entities it represents in its relations with the public officials mentioned in the Law on Transparency in Public Life;
  • refrain from proposing or giving to public officials any presents, gifts or benefits of any significant value;
  • refrain from paying any remuneration to employees of the President, members of ministers’ offices and employees of a member of the National Assembly, senator or parliamentary group;
  • refrain from inciting these persons to violate the ethical rules applicable to them;
  • refrain from engaging in any action with these persons to obtain information or decisions by fraudulent means;
  • refrain from obtaining or attempting to obtain information or decisions by deliberately communicating to these persons erroneous information or by resorting to manoeuvres designed to deceive them;
  • refrain from organising colloquia, demonstrations or meetings, in which the methods of speaking by public officials mentioned in the Law on Transparency in Public Life is linked to the payment of a remuneration in any form whatsoever;
  • refrain from using, for commercial or advertising purposes, the information obtained from a public official mentioned in the Law on Transparency in Public Life;
  • refrain from selling to third parties copies of documents from the government, an independent administrative or public authority, or from using the letterhead and the logo of these public authorities and administrative bodies; and
  • strive to comply with all the rules provided by the Law on Transparency in Public Life in their relations with the direct entourage of public officials.

According to the Law on Transparency in Public Life, guidelines related to the conduct of representatives of interests may be further detailed within a code of deontology issued following a Decree of the Council of State. At the time of writing, no code of deontology has been set.

In addition, pursuant to the Law on Transparency in Public Life, on 31 May 2017, the Senate adopted a new code of conduct applicable to the relations between the representatives of interests and senators. The National Assembly’s 2016 Code of Conduct applies to the relations between representatives of interests and a member of the National Assembly.

Media

Are there restrictions in broadcast and press regulation that limit commercial interests’ ability to use the media to influence public policy outcomes?

The French media is diversified, primarily because of the end of the state monopoly in 1982. Most media outlets are owned by private economic interests.

The independence and the pluralism of the media are principles of French law. However, the law strictly regulates the advertising and communication developed in the media around products from specific industries, including tobacco, alcohol and medicine.