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24th Aug 2019

MEPs threaten to block commission funding over transparency

MEPs are threatening to block €2 million in EU funding for expert groups unless the European Commission can guarantee more transparency.

The expert groups, selected by the commission, act as inside advisors to help it draw up EU legislative proposals and policy initiatives. But how they are selected and the interests they represent have drawn wide-spread criticism from pro-transparency groups and some MEPs.

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  • The EU parliament earlier this year clashed with the commission over access to internal documents (Photo: Christoph Diewald)

British centre-left Michael Cashman, Dutch left-wing Dennis de Jong, and German Green Helga Trupel were among the handful of deputies who met European Commission representatives on Wednesday (5 September) to discuss the issue.

The Parliament’s budget committee was scheduled to vote to either lift or block the reserve on Thursday but decided to postpone the vote until 19 September.

“It gives us more time to put down in writing what we had agreed with the commission today. I think the commission is really engaged but if it doesn't materialise we'll block the funds," said de Jong.

The European Parliament says it will not release the funds unless the commission meets a number of conditions, including banning lobbyists and corporate executives from sitting in the groups.

The parliament is also insisting that groups are not dominated by a single interest category, such as big business.

The commission, for its part, has acknowledged outstanding issues among the groups that could give rise to a conflict of interest.

It identified 18 of its groups over the summer that include people who "are representatives of stakeholders" and do not represent the interests of the public.

The commission has also noted that some of the stakeholders, or lobbyists, had given misleading statements when joining the groups by claiming they were "experts in a personal capacity" when they were representing third parties.

The commission has not revealed the identities of the groups but the Brussels-based pro-transparency group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) claims the European design leadership board and the Raw Materials Supply Group are among them.

The commission said it published all relevant documents linked to the expert groups in April. But CEO disagrees.

"Agendas and minutes for most groups are not available through the register and most of the time not available at all," it wrote in a letter to MEPs.

Corporate interests continue to dominate around 100 expert groups, says the NGO.

Over 30 of the 89 groups linked to the commission's DG enterprise, for instance, are almost entirely composed of people representing corporations.

The department, which works on research, international trade, consumer, environmental and internal market policy issues, partially relies on 482 people from big corporations to help it draw up policy.

An additional 255 people from non-government categories like independent professionals, academics and civil society also advise the DG, says CEO.

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