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14th Aug 2020

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Pens down when Juncker meets lobbyists

  • Jean-Claude Juncker met with the CEO of ArcelorMittal on 5 May 2018. But according to the Commission no written record exists of what was said (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission has no written record of what was said during the six meetings its president Jean-Claude Juncker has held with lobbyists this year.

EUobserver asked the commission in an access to documents request to release all documents – including minutes, (handwritten) notes, audio recordings, verbatim reports, emails, and presentations – related to the meetings.

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  • Juncker with Reporters without Borders head Christophe Deloire (Photo: European Commission)

In response, the commission released sixteen documents – only emails and one letter.

But the tranche of documents contained no minutes, notes, or other paper trail of the contents of Juncker's lobby talks.

"There is no obligation to have minutes being taken," said a commission spokeswoman.

Indeed, the commission president followed the institution's own rules by having the six meetings published on the webpage 'Meetings of president Jean-Claude Juncker with organisations and self-employed individuals'.

But the lack of minutes or any other notes about what was said in the meeting does raise further questions.

Bas Eickhout, a Dutch MEP from the Green group, said he found it "strange".

"When the American president has formal talks, transcripts are produced," noted Eickhout.

"You would expect that there would be [similar documents] for Juncker – in particular because you want to know what he promises in such a meeting," said Eickhout.

Urgent request

One example of wanting to know what was said, could be the meeting Juncker had with Josef Ackermann, a Swiss banker who leads the board of directors of the Bank of Cyprus.

The former CEO of Deutsche Bank is also a former member of the secretive Group of Thirty bankers' club and of the steering committee of the Bilderberg meetings.

An email to Juncker's office, sent by Ackermann's office, dated 10 April 2018, was titled: "Urgent request from Dr. Josef Ackermann".

The short note remarked that it had "been a while" since the two had been in close contact, but that Ackermann "still remembers their successful meetings".

"This time Dr. Ackermann comes with an urgent request and would like to discuss with president Juncker the situation between the EU and Switzerland regarding US sanctions," said the email.

The email was sent on the same day as media reported that US sanctions on Russian oligarchs had effects on the stock value of several Swiss companies with Russian ties.

The email did not elaborate on whether the urgent request was merely to discuss the situation, or whether there was something specific Ackermann wanted Juncker to do.

When EUobserver asked the commission to comment, a spokeswoman merely referred to the entry in the commission's register of lobby meetings.

"The two have met before and they discussed current European and global affairs – as you can also see from the transparency register," she said about the meeting, which took place on 7 May.

Confusingly, the transparency register is the name of the database of registered lobbyists, but in this case the spokeswoman referred to the lists of meetings that each commissioner publishes on his or her individual webpage.

'Bad practice'

Lobby transparency campaigner Margarida Silva told EUobserver that Juncker not keeping minutes of his meetings was "bad practice".

"[It] prevents adequate scrutiny of the commission's interactions with lobbyists and ultimately makes it difficult for citizens to fully understand who influence policy processes," said Silva in an email.

Christophe Deloire is secretary-general of the press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders.

According to the released documents, he wanted to discuss how the EU's condemnation of two killings of journalists, in Malta and Slovakia, "can be followed by action". He met Juncker on 15 May.

Deloire told EUobserver that two of Juncker's advisors had been in the room during his meeting, but that he did not remember if they took notes.

Eickhout, the Green MEP, said that he found it hard to imagine that at the highest political level, no notes are being taken.

"If I have a meeting with a commissioner, then you are almost never alone. There are always other people around the table. And they write things down," said Eickhout.

Future of Europe

Juncker hardly meets anyone who is not a government official or politician, so when he does meet lobbyists, it sends a political signal of where his priorities lie.

The other four people Juncker met in 2018 were Hans-Walter Peters, Guillaume Klossa, Lakshmi Mittal, and Klaus Schwab.

Peters is head of the Association of German Banks. His meeting with Juncker on 10 January was registered as being about "Banking Union and deepening of economic and monetary union".

Klossa is founder of Europanova, a non-governmental organisation that says it wants to promote the public debate about Europe. He spoke to Juncker on 22 January about "current reflections about the future of Europe".

Mittal, CEO of steel multinational ArcelorMittal, was originally to meet Juncker during the World Economic Forum in Davos, according to one of the released emails – but Juncker had to cancel because of a stomach flu.

The meeting was scheduled for 6 March, and registered as a discussion about "EU industrial and trade policy", although it seems unlikely that the two did not discuss the hot topic of that period – the EU's attempt to get an exemption from US tariffs on steel.

Schwab, finally, is executive chairman of the World Economic Forum – the Alpine meeting which Juncker had to skip this year.

In a letter dated 19 April, Schwab told Juncker that he hoped he would make it next year, and that he wanted to meet him in Brussels.

"Above all, to see how, in the current situation, we can contribute to the European idea," wrote Schwab.

The topic of the meeting, held on 24 May, was registered as "Future of Europe".

The above shows that the entries into the meeting register are not always particularly elaborate.

Commission's 'ahead' on transparency

But when comparing the level of transparency on lobby meetings in the commission to other EU institutions like the European Parliament, it is "ahead", said Eickhout.

At national level, the picture is mixed, said campaigner Silva.

She said that in Ireland for example, lobbyists had to list their encounters with ministers themselves, while in the UK cabinet ministers are required to list lobby meetings, which are published every quarter.

"This is unfortunately not the majority in the EU yet but the number of countries which keep track of lobby meetings is increasing," she noted.

"As far as I know no country follows the EU commission model strictly," Silva added.

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