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12th Dec 2019

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Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings

  • One in every three meetings the German Selmayr had as secretary-general, was with an organisation that represented the interests of German businesses. (Photo: Brookings Institution)

Former secretary-general of the European Commission Martin Selmayr did not keep any records of the meetings he had with lobbyists while he was the commission's highest-ranking civil servant, EUobserver can conclude from e-mail exchanges with the commission.

Selmayr was secretary-general from 1 March 2018 until 1 August this year, during which he held at least 21 meetings with organisations, companies, and think tanks.

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Last month, EUobserver filed an access to documents request, asking the commission to release "all documents - including but not limited to minutes, (hand-written) notes, audio recordings, verbatim reports, operational conclusions, lines to take, e-mails, and presentations - related to all meetings secretary-general Martin Selmayr has held with organisations or self-employed individuals since 1 March 2018".

The access to documents department of the commission's secretariat-general replied to say that the scope of the request was too large to handle by the legal deadline ("amounting to more than 360 pages in total"), and asked EUobserver to narrow down the scope.

It informed EUobserver of the 21 documents which it had identified. All of these were preparatory briefings, written to help Selmayr prepare for the meetings.

Briefings are written before a meeting takes place.

This means the commission had not identified any papers which described what was actually said in the meeting with lobbyists.

Even if the commission wants to keep certain documents confidential, it has to acknowledge they exist. It is not the first time the commission said no minutes of lobbyist meetings existed.

There is no rule which obliges commission staff to produce minutes of their meetings with lobbyists.

But when EUobserver confronted justice affairs commissioner Vera Jourova with the fact that her staff made no such minutes of her meetings with Facebook and Google, she said they should have done so.

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

Most of the lobby meetings Selmayr had in his 17 months as secretary-general were with corporate lobbyists.

There appeared to be something of a geographical bias for the German Selmayr.

One in every three meetings Selmayr had was with an organisation that represented the interests of German businesses.

But he also met with the Spanish Confederation of Employers' Organisations, aircraft-builder Airbus, US investment bank JPMorgan Chase, and DigitalEurope, a Brussels-based organisation that has tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google among its members.

Five Selmayr meetings were with think tanks.

In 2014, Selmayr was Jean-Claude Juncker's campaign manager. He became Juncker's head of cabinet and chief of staff when the former Luxembourg prime minister became president of the European Commission later that year.

Selmayr notoriously became secretary-general last year after a lightning-fast promotion, which was criticised by the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman.

More transparency under VDL?

He resigned as of 1 August, in anticipation of another German, Ursula von der Leyen, taking over from Juncker as president of the European Commission on 1 November.

Von der Leyen has said in her political guidelines, published last month, that the EU institutions "should be open and beyond reproach on ethics, transparency and integrity".

"I will support the creation of an independent ethics body common to all EU institutions," she said.

She also said the EU needed "more transparency throughout the legislative process" and that she would work with the parliament and the Council of the EU to make this happen.

"Citizens should know who we, as the institutions who serve them, meet and discuss with and what positions we defend in the legislative process," said von der Leyen

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Zahradil 'conflict of interest' probe may flounder

The European Parliament's internal body, designed to sanction MEPs for conflicts of interests, has failed to deliver any meaningful verdicts. Some are hoping a future proposal for a new independent ethics body will help hold MEPs accountable.

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