Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

MEPs threaten budget suspension over transparency

A handful of MEPs are asking the parliament to withhold millions of euros from the European Commission to force greater transparency in the Brussels executive.

The deputies say the commission is not serious in its efforts in making so-called expert groups more open and better balanced.

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  • MEPs are unhappy about corporate influence in expert groups (Photo: Christoph Diewald)

Expert groups offer advice and opinions to commission officials drafting new policies, but many are said to neglect or under-represent the views of civil society.

“One-sided expert groups lead to biased expertise and legislative proposals which privilege the interest of big business. We cannot accept this,” German Green MEP Helga Trupel told this website in an email on Friday (12 September).

Trupel said it is "absolutely unacceptable" that speculators are allowed to dominate expert groups on financial regulation while large fossil fuel companies dominate on climate change.

Earlier this month, she tabled an amendment to place €3.8 million of the commission's 2015 EU budget under reserve until the executive meets parliament demands.

The demands require the commission to ban lobbyists and corporate executives from joining the groups in a “personal capacity”.

They also urge the commission to establish an open selection process, guarantee a balance of views, and publish on-line agendas, minutes, and participants’ submissions. The final results of an on-going inquiry into the matter by the EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly must also be considered, it says.

Co-signed by seven MEPs from all the big political groups, except the Liberals, the deputies say the commission has not fully adhered to previous agreements to overhaul the expert groups.

“Alde (the Liberals) did not sign it but this was more of an internal matter, they weren’t sure what their position was. I cannot imagine they will vote against this amendment,” said a parliament official close to the issue.

Among the signatories is German centre-right MEP Ingeborg Graessle (EPP), who chairs the parliament’s budgetary control committee and who is seen as key to getting the amendment endorsed by the assembly’s largest political group when it goes to vote.

The Greens agreed to drop a condition in the amendment in order to broaden its appeal among the core political groups. It had stated all expert groups, without exception, would be balanced and that no single stakeholder would dominate.

Meanwhile, the €3.8 million figure is almost double the amount placed into reserve compared to previous years.

The EU parliament had already docked the budget on expert groups twice. First in November 2011 and then again in March 2012 for the 2012 budget.

The money set aside was then lifted in September 2012 after the two sides agreed that no stakeholder would have a majority position.

But MEPs along with pro-transparency NGOs complain the commission has failed to stick to its side of the bargain, noting that many newly formed expert groups remain biased towards industry interest.

The European Commission, for its part, says the consultants are needed because it lacks the expertise internally.

It argues that it can only accept candidates for such groups who have real, needed expertise in the area covered by the mandate of the group.

The lack of civil society representation, it says, is due in part to “insufficient applications from NGOs”.

The commission maintains it has fulfilled the greater transparency requirements as promised by on-lining the mandate, the membership and the work of the groups for all to see.

Other problems prevail, however.

For one, the commission and pro-transparency NGOs sometimes have different interpretations of what makes an individual or organisation sitting in a group an industry representative.

A report by transparency umbrella Alter-EU last year described the CARS 2020 expert group, set up to keep Europe’s automotive industry competitive, as being dominated by 63 percent corporate interest.

The commission says CARS 2020 is split even between corporate and civil.

MEPs in the budget committee are set to vote on the amendment at the end of the month before it goes to a plenary vote sometime in October.

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