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20th Jul 2018

Ombudsman demands greater expert group transparency

  • The commission consults hundreds of group to help it frame laws (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU ombudsman Emily O'Reilly is demanding more transparency on so-called expert groups that help frame future EU proposals.

In 2015 the European Commission consulted around 800 groups with a total of roughly 6,000 members, mostly composed of people from industry, to help it draw up new legislation.

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O'Reilly on Tuesday (2 February) said the Brussels executive should publish the minutes of meetings as well as positions advanced by individual members.

"Making this kind of information public will help ensure expert groups are viewed as legitimate as possible," she said in a statement.

O'Reilly had launched her own inquiry in May 2014 following broad concerns over how the experts were appointed, the balance between corporate and civil society interest in the groups, and overall transparency.

Pro-transparency groups have long complained that corporate interests dominate the groups at the expense of public interest.

One report by Alter-EU, an alliance of transparency NGOs, highlighted the issue by noting some of the so-called independent panellists in the expert group on tax were working for accountancy firms Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PwC.

Some progress

The commission has argued that civil society might not always have the required expertise on specific areas, and that some positions reserved for them may go unfilled.

It has also said that some of the expert groups would lose their purpose by becoming embroiled in political debates if they accommodated a wide range of views.

"It is important to underline that expert groups are not set up in the first place to engage in a debate of a general nature with stakeholders or public opinion," said EU Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans in a formal response last year to O'Reilly's inquiry.

O'Reilly said some progress has been made since the May inquiry.

She noted that internal conflict of interest rules and the processes by which experts were selected had been overhauled. Self-employed members are now also required to register in the EU joint-transparency register.

But in a letter sent to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker over the weekend, O'Reilly said the groups should also publish agendas and background documents ahead of a meeting.

She said confidentiality of the meetings should only be allowed in exceptional cases "following a majority vote within the group and with the consent of the commission".

The commission has until the end of April to respond to the latest recommendations.

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