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13th Aug 2020

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Commission took no minutes at Juncker speech seminar

  • The team of EU commissioners - known collectively as the college - at their annual seminar last August at a chateau outside Brussels (Photo: European Commission)

The secretariat-general of the European Commission has implied it did not produce any written record of what was said during a two-day seminar of commissioners, held in August to prepare the State of the Union speech.

EUobserver asked the commission in an access to documents request to make "all documents" available related to the commission's annual seminar, "including but not limited to minutes, (hand-written) notes, audio recordings, verbatim reports, emails, and presentations".

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  • EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at the seminar, where apparently no notes were being taken (Photo: European Commission)

In a reply dated Thursday (13 September), a senior civil servant at the commission's secretariat-general wrote that the commission identified one document that fell under the scope of Euobserver's request.

That document was the invitation letter to members of the commission, informing them of the programme of the two-day seminar, held on 30-31 August at Chateau du Lac in Genval – 17km south-east of the commission's headquarters in Brussels.

The seminar consisted of three sessions devoted to the preparation of the annual State of the Union speech, which commission president Jean-Claude Juncker delivered in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday (12 September).

In total, the three sessions lasted six hours.

The reply suggested that no notes or minutes were taken during the seminar.

No rules were broken - the commission is not obliged to produce minutes.

However, not writing anything down about the seminar is remarkable.

When the EU's 28 commissioners – known collectively as the college – meet weekly, detailed minutes are kept and systematically published online.

Lobbyists

The commission's response comes shortly after a response to a separate access to documents request, in which EUobserver asked for any minutes or notes related to Juncker's six meetings with lobbyists this year.

That request also came back empty: no minutes or records were reportedly produced.

While it is unclear how common it is that no minutes are made when EU commissioners meet lobbyists, lobby transparency campaigner Margarida Silva told EUobserver last month that she thought it happened "a lot".

She said at the time, when commenting about meetings held by commissioners Guenther Oettinger (budget) and Miguel Arias Canete (climate) also without any note-taking, that it was a "bad practice" and "very odd".

"If you are having a professional meeting, you take notes," she said.

The EU's regulation on access to documents only gives citizens the right to request information if it is in documents that already exist.

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