EU accused of heavy reliance on industry lobbyists
By Honor Mahony
An alliance of environment groups, trade unions and academics has accused the European Commission of relying too heavily on business and industry lobbyists when drawing up EU legislation.
The transparency group Alter-EU, made up of 160 organisations, said the commission - which of the EU institutions has the sole power to initiate European laws - has over-filled its advisory expert groups with industry lobbyists.
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In a report published Tuesday (25 March), Alter-EU says some of the commission's most controversial advisory groups such as those on biotechnology, clean coal and car emissions are among those controlled by industry.
The report found that industry representatives made up more than half of the membership of a quarter of the groups surveyed while 32% percent had members representing a "wide range of interests." The remainder of the 44 groups surveyed were considered "unbalanced."
Alter-EU also accused Brussels of not being transparent about the composition of such expert groups, which are there to advise commission policy-makers.
The transparency campaigners say they choose the 44 groups from what they consider "key policy areas" - the environment, energy, agriculture, consumers, health, water and biotechnology.
According to their report, the total number of expert groups has increased by more than 40% since 2000 with one group for every eight officials working in the European Commission. Total membership of the groups runs to over 50,000.
"The Commission seems unwilling to provide information about who is on its Expert Groups, and in some cases does not even appear to know whether groups exist or not. This reveals an appalling attitude to transparency and public accountability in the law-making process," said Paul de Clerck of green group Friends of the Earth Europe.
Report author Yiorgos Vassalos of Corporate Europe Observatory said: "These groups should act in the public interest, but it appears that some are being allowed to further their own commercial interests."
The report says that while the commission in 2005 started an online register of the groups, it does not list who is in them while "several academics, lobbyists and even EU officials have estimated a much higher figure" than the around 1,200 listed groups.
The report found that a climate change panel, for example, had 30 industry representatives, 13 commission officials, plus 7 further members coming from NGOs and universities and a regional member.
For its part the commission on Thursday said that only around 20 percent of experts represent industry.
It also said it planned to make public the names on such committees by the summer.
"It's still a work in progress to the extent that the commission is still compiling the various elements to be able to release the names on the expert groups," said a commission spokeswoman.
She also pointed out that experts from national governments and agencies made up two-thirds of those in the groups.
The transparency report comes at a time of heightened awareness about the importance of legislation coming out of Brussels, with a corresponding growth in recent years of lobbyists, NGOs and think-tanks in the EU capital.
Last year the commission set out plans for a voluntary register for lobbyists, with estimates suggesting there are about 15,000 in Brussels.
The European Parliament, whose powers to influence legislation are set to grow substantially next year under the proposed EU treaty, is also looking into establishing a voluntary register.
Both institutions have come under criticism for not automatically opting for a mandatory register.