„The Social Democrats gave up, we´ve got the names!”

Exclaiming these words, our editor Martin entered the office room of abgeordnetentwatch.de on an, up until this very moment, rather calm morning. In his hands he held a list with names of all lobbyists who were granted access to the German parliament (“Bundestag”) with entry cards issued by the Social Democrats, the second strongest faction in the parliament and coalition partner of chancellor Angela Merkel. This was one of the lists we had wanted to analyze for almost one and a half years. Getting there was a long way.

It all started with an investigation in June 2014, which revealed that there is a secret way for lobbyists to gain access to the German parliament. The official way of getting an entry card which permits the holder to enter the Bundestag whenever he or she wants, is the registration in a publicly accessible list. This list has some serious flaws in terms of transparency. However, it gives the public a rough idea of who enters the parliament. Despite the fact that the public knows who enters the Bundestag, this way of entering poses certain disadvantages for lobbyists: only registered associations, not company officials can obtain such an ID and the amount of granted IDs is limited to only five per association. If a lobbyist wants to bypass these disadvantages he can contact one of the party officials who can grant an ID without anyone noticing. Once a lobbyist has such an ID he/she has access to almost every part of the Bundestag. The opportunities this ID gives to lobbyists are striking. A professional lobbyist openly admitted in a TV show that the best way to “inform” politicians is to invite them for breakfast inside the parliament after they have just come from their constituencies to start the plenary sessions. During this time the members of parliament are usually hungry because they “did not have a chance to fill there fridges yet”. Merely the mentioned entry cards make such detailed strategies of influencing members of parliament possible in the first place. On top of that, these access permissions are received under the table, meaning the public has no way of knowing who is trying to influence the politicians.

We learned about the secret way of entering the Bundestag through a leaked document. Previously (in June 2014), abgeordnetenwatch.de had made an inquiry to request information on all the possible ways lobbyists can enter the parliament. The answer though, was not very informative: one part of the provided document described the official way of gaining entrance; the other part of the document was excluded, only two brackets indicated that the document was not complete.

After the authorities refused to provide us with the necessary information, a leaked document helped us uncover the possibility of entering in secret through the parties. More investigations revealed that approximately 1000 lobbyists entered the Bundestag with IDs granted by the parties. The next step was to confront the parties in the parliament. We demanded the names of the companies and associations who received such an ID. The Left party and the Green party provided us with the necessary information almost right away while the ruling parties, namely the Conservatives and the Social Democrats, refused to give us the names, using the excuse of privacy violation issues.

The biggest part of ID holders therefore remained unknown. Since neither the biggest parties nor the Bundestag gave us the information we were convinced the public should have access to, we decided to sue the German parliament.

In June 2015 the administrative court in Berlin ruled in our favor in every point. But instead of releasing the information the Bundestag decided to file appeal – obviously pressured by the Conservatives and the Social Democrats. As soon as we presented this information to the media the coverage was massive. The amplification of public pressure caused the Social Democrats to release a list of names, which revealed that they had given 218 access IDs to lobbyists. Among these names abgeordnetenwatch.de was able to discover many prominent brands connected to international economy, for instance: Lufthansa, ThyssenKrupp, Shell, Deutsche Telekom AG. Up until now we were able to reveal 299 IDs that were given to lobbyists in secret. The majority of the contacts remain unknown since the Conservatives are still refusing to reveal their list of names.

At abgeordnetenwatch.de we have set the goal to trace every lobby contact that is still being held in secret. A list showing who entered the Bundestag and therefore who would be able to influence members of parliament is critical for the right of German citizens to have insight on official information. Until such a list of contacts is openly published a necessary right of democracy is being denied. Therefore we will continue our legal battle against the German parliament.