Thursday

21st Jan 2021

Exclusive

Missing: Paper trail of EU meetings with Big Tech

  • EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova (c) met with Microsoft's head of its Brussels office, John Frank (r) 29 November 2017. The meeting, for which no records exist, was also attended by former US attorney general Eric Holder (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission did not keep any written records of what was said during meetings between EU commissioner Vera Jourova and several technology companies, a response to an EUobserver access to documents request reveals.

Reacting to the news at a press conference on Monday (4 February), Jourova said she did not know why no minutes had been produced, and that they should have been.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

EUobserver had asked the commission for all documents related to several meetings Jourova had in 2017 and 2018.

The commission released a so-called "flash report", which summarised a discussion Jourova had in July 2018 with the vice-president of Amazon, Barbara Scarafia, and the internet company's main EU lobbyist James Waterworth.

But such records turned out not to exist for Jourova's encounters with IBM CEO Ginni Rometty (11 October 2017), Google senior vice-president Kent Walker (17 November 2017), Microsoft top EU lobbyist John Frank (29 November 2017), and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg (January 2018).

The commission did keep briefings given to Jourova in advance of the meetings, but there are no records which detail what she actually said, and how those executives responded.

"I will give you a very honest answer," said Jourova when asked about the lack of records.

"I don't know why we didn't record what we spoke about, and I would wish to have such reports," she added.

"It would help me also to prove to society what we are doing and where we are directing, and how difficult sometimes these debates are," she said.

"I will look into it. I will be only happy to bring more transparency into what we do, not only with IT sector," said the Czech commissioner.

Those comments come closest to an acknowledgement that it would be good practice for EU commissioners to always have written minutes of what they discuss with lobbyists.

Since late 2016, EUobserver has reported that no paper trail existed for: a meeting between Germany's EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger and Volkswagen about Dieselgate; 14 meetings by Oettinger and climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete with companies like Goldman Sachs, Statoil, Suez, and Peugeot; six meetings by commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, including with bankers and multinational CEOs; a dinner in a private club organised by oil and gas firm ExxonMobil, attended by EU commissioner Christos Stylianides and other Cypriot officials; and several meetings by the vice-president of the European Commission in charge of jobs, Jyrki Katainen, despite his pledge that a cabinet member "always" takes notes.

When EUobserver revealed how Juncker's meetings went undocumented last year, a commission spokeswoman said that the commission was fulfilling its transparency requirements.

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

Indeed, the commission is in charge of its own transparency rules. Since Juncker took office in November 2014, commissioners are required to document who they meet, when, and provide the subject of the meeting.

However, the subject entered into the database can be very broad, such as "current reflections about the future of Europe".

One can file an access to documents request to find out more, but only information that is actually in some form of document is part of the EU's transparency regulation.

Beyond transparency, it also raises questions as to how busy commissioners can keep track of what they discussed or said to lobbyists, if there is no proper documentation.

Jourova, for example, has met 168 lobbyists since taking office in November 2014.

Exclusive

Commission took no minutes at Juncker speech seminar

In August, Jean-Claude Juncker and his EU commissioners held a two-day seminar at a chateau outside Brussels to prepare this week's State of the Union speech. The commission implies there is no written record.

Investigation

Oettinger left no trace of VW Dieselgate meeting

EU commissioner for the digital economy and society, Guenther Oettinger, met with German carmakers in January to discuss "diesel emissions", even though the topic is not in his portfolio.

Exclusive

'Big 3' EU candidates won't pledge lobbyist minutes

EUobserver asked candidates for the presidency of the EU Commission to commit in principle to having minutes taken of their meetings with politicians and lobbyists. The 'Big 3' all said no.

Exclusive

Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings

The German former secretary-general of the European Commission held some 21 meetings which were registered in the lobby register. But no documents appeared to exist summarising what was said.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary gives initial ok for UK and Russian vaccines
  2. Russia files for Sputnik vaccine registration in EU
  3. Destruction and three deaths in Madrid explosion
  4. Liberals kick out Lithuanian MEP for homophobic jibes
  5. Air pollution killing thousands of Europeans a year
  6. First migrant tragedy of 2021 claims 43 lives
  7. Train revival needed to meet EU climate goals
  8. NGOs shame Monaco for persecuting UK whistleblower

Feature

EU Parliament: Strasbourg, or the climate?

A report of the European Parliament's environmental management unit proposes a treaty change to move the European Parliament's headquarters from Strasbourg to Brussels - in order for the institution to become climate-neutral by 2030.

Opinion

German presidency's broken promises on 'fair tax'

At the start of the German presidency of the EU Council it committed itself to a "fair taxation" agenda. But as we enter the final leg of its six-month term, time is running out to make good on this promise.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. US returns to climate deal and WHO, as EU 'rejoices'
  2. Big tech: From Trump's best friend to censorship machine?
  3. Turkish minister in Brussels to discuss new migrant deal
  4. EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates
  5. On Erdoğan and Europe's 'ontological' choice
  6. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  7. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  8. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us