BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Lack of control over lobbyists threatens to undermine European democracies, the anti-corruption pressure group Transparency International said on Wednesday, as it called for tight new regulation.
In a report assessing legal and other safeguards against opaque lobbying practices in 19 of the 28 European Union states and three EU institutions, it found only two countries -- ex-communist Slovenia and Lithuania -- had even half the level of protection Transparency thought necessary to protect against "undue influence" by vested interests.
Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal all scored less than 25 percent on the group's measure. Hungary and Cyprus trailed in lowest at just 14 percent each.
The EU's own executive, the European Commission, also passed the 50 percent mark. But the European Parliament and Council of the European Union fell short, the former at 37 percent and the latter at just 19 percent.
Among Transparency International's concerns were lack of public documentation of who is lobbying whom, with what resources and for what purpose. Others included failure to control the "revolving door" of staff moving between government institutions and private enterprises.
"Despite the fact that lobbying is an integral part of a healthy democracy, multiple scandals throughout Europe demonstrate that without clear and enforceable rules and regulations, a select number of voices with more money and insider contacts can come to dominate political decision-making," Transparency International said in a statement.
The report singled out Italy, Portugal and Spain -- all hit by the region's debt crisis -- as among the worst-performing countries. It added that "post-crisis financial sector reform efforts at the national and EU levels have been thwarted and watered down, in large part due to intense lobbying by the financial sector in Europe."
The report also said industries employing "problematic lobbying practices" included the alcohol, tobacco, automobile, energy, financial and pharmaceutical industries.
"European countries and EU institutions must adopt robust lobbying regulations that cover the broad range of lobbyists who influence ... any political decisions," the group's vice-chair, Elena Panfilova, said. "Otherwise, the lack of lobby control threatens to undermine democracy across the region."
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Larry King)