MEPs unblock funds for EU expert groups
MEPs in the budget committee on Thursday (20 September) unblocked some €2 million in funding for European Commission expert groups after the executive agreed to implement new transparency rules.
The advisory groups, selected by the commission, help it to craft legislation.
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But pro-transparency NGOs and some MEPs have long voiced concern over their secrecy, noting that many of the so-called advisors are corporate lobbyists.
"Public interest groups are vastly under-represented - and as a result we see business-friendly laws that fail to protect the wider interests of society," said Yiorgos Vassalos of pro-transparency group Corporate Europe Observatory in a recent statement.
Another pro-transparency group, Alter-EU, found that big business dominates two-thirds of the advisory groups in the commission's department for enterprise.
The unbalanced composition of the groups along with the lack of transparency compelled MEPs to freeze their funding in November 2011.
The parliament says the commission should prohibit any single interest group from dominating any given panel and has called for common selection criteria for all commission services.
MEPs also want a ban on lobbyists and corporate executives in the expert groups.
And they say information on membership, agendas, minutes of meetings and copies of documents submitted should be available to the general public online.
The commission earlier this year moved forward on some of the proposals but not enough to please the MEPs who froze the budget.
Commission administration chief Maros Sefcovic then appealed directly to the MEPs on 11 September.
He assured them he is committed to "redressing any remaining imbalances in the composition of groups" as well as any potential conflicts of interest. He also said he will publish more of the documents.
But Sefcovic warned that without adequate funding, legislative initiatives would be undermined.
"I sincerely hope that the parliament will agree to lift the [budget] reserve, which risks having a detrimental effect on the functioning of expert groups and hence on the policy-making process," wrote Sefcovic in a letter seen by this website.
For his part, Dutch left-wing MEP Dennis de Jong told EUobserver the two sides are working well together.
"We should be able to trust them," he said, referring to recent conversations with Sefcovic and commission administration chief Catherine Day.
An official dialogue between MEPs and the vice-president is scheduled in the next coming weeks. The two sides will discuss commitments made by the commission to increase transparency.
A list of grievances and complaints compiled by NGOs will also be handed over to Sefcovic. De Jong said the commission will then have to deal with them "one by one."
He noted, for instance, the commission already "agreed on substance" that someone who works for a company which will be affected by the legislation is not an independent expert.
"If for some reason or another we discover after a few months that dialogue isn't providing the right results we shall not hesitate to reserve future budgets," said De Jong.
The next expert group budget reserve is in 2014.