Wednesday

25th May 2022

Opinion

The rollback of transparency

  • The European Investment Bank is set to become one of the world’s most secretive financial institutions. (Photo: EIB)

Transparency, once a 'conditio sine qua non' for democracy and good governance, is suffering a clear backlash in Europe.

In a post-Occupy, post-Wikileaks world, transparency has nestled in the public consciousness. Outraged by the abuses of power, people took to the streets demanding more say in decisions influencing their lives and more accountability by political leaders. People demanded better representation and they knew transparency was crucial to get it.

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

Yet at the same time we are witnessing a silent backlash against participation and transparency. Citizens are being surreptitiously pushed back from control over public life.

It could be seen very clearly during the economic crisis when, despite protests against austerity measures day after day, the EU and individual governments were pushing through with unpopular austerity measures.

Increasingly crucial economic decisions are being made by a narrow group of decision-makers including the Troika, members of the European Council, bankers and economic experts, while the European Parliament and its national counterparts were largely marginalised.

Another symbolic example is the total emasculation of the “European Citizen Initiative” - a tool launched with fanfare at the beginning of this year and meant to give Europeans the ability to alter legislation if a sufficient number of them (a million) gathers behind the cause.

And yet earlier this month a citizen initiative to give Europeans a say in the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership(TTIP) was struck down by the Commission on questionable legal grounds.

Despite the “citizen initiative” being one of the main arguments EU institutions would invoke to prove their openness to citizens, the Commission seems to reserve a right to decide on which issues citizens can speak.

The EU's bank kicks back

When it comes to European public investment banks, we fear the same dynamics are taking root in the way public money is spent. The European Investment Bank's (EIB) draft for a new transparency policy is a major setback from what has been gained since we first started campaigning for the bank to be more open.

Instead of bringing further improvements, the current draft would mean a major step backwards.

Among other things, the bank is proposing a significant expansion of its existing exemptions on information disclosure - going beyond what is requested by EU legislation. As a result, EU citizens would be unable to access most EIB internal documents, even if they were of public interest.

The EIB is already ranked as "poor" in the 2013 International Aid Transparency Initiative. If the policy is adopted as it currently stands, it would turn the EIB into one of the world’s most secretive financial institutions.

This is happening despite earlier commitments to greater transparency and accountability to EU citizens made by the bank when it benefited from a capital increase in 2013.

And in spite of the European Parliament repeatedly calling on the EIB to increase the transparency of its operations and to make more information available.

This planned decrease in transparency comes as the institution is gearing up to play a core role in a pro-growth strategy prepared by the new European Commission run by Jean-Claude Juncker. The strategy involves the generation of an extra €300 billion in new investments into the European economy.

It seems that EU leaders are willing to pour more public money into another debatable growth package without allowing public oversight, let alone a voice for EU citizens.

But citizen groups and NGOs have increasingly beefed up their capacity to monitor and pressure public institutions.

Over the past years, awareness about the EIB and its operations has grown among the European media and the public, not in the least because of NGO efforts. With more money being pushed through the EIB, more eyes will be watching the bank. There can be no other direction but towards transparency.

Xavier Sol is director of Counter Balance. Ana Colovic is Bankwatch EIB coordinator

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Orbán's overtures to Moscow are distasteful and detrimental

Some Western European politicians are reviving the chimera of a negotiated settlement. None of this makes the current, half-hearted approach towards sanctioning Russia look better — nor does it shed any favourable light on the cravenness of Hungary's current government.

Column

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is back

Ukraine is finally understood — and hopefully Belarus will be soon too — as a self-standing society and state with close links to its EU neighbours, rather being relegated to Russia's backyard.

Brexit hostility to Good Friday Agreement is damaging UK in US

Democratic Unionist MPs could affirm unequivocally they support the Good Friday Agreement, with no return of a border with physical controls on movement of people, goods or agricultural produce within the island of Ireland — but they won't.

Are Orban's Covid powers now the 'new normal' in Hungary?

As the world continues to seek productive ways to provide assistance to the beleaguered citizens of Ukraine, the Hungarian government is now using the humanitarian crisis to further its own authoritarian ambitions.

What Europe still needs to do to save its bees

On World Bee Day, it is essential to pay homage to a variety of pollinating insects crucial for our food security. A number of EU projects contribute to their sustained survival.

Column

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is back

Ukraine is finally understood — and hopefully Belarus will be soon too — as a self-standing society and state with close links to its EU neighbours, rather being relegated to Russia's backyard.

Brexit hostility to Good Friday Agreement is damaging UK in US

Democratic Unionist MPs could affirm unequivocally they support the Good Friday Agreement, with no return of a border with physical controls on movement of people, goods or agricultural produce within the island of Ireland — but they won't.

News in Brief

  1. France 'convinced' Ukraine will join EU
  2. Von der Leyen: Russia hoarding food as 'blackmail'
  3. Legal action launched against KLM over 'greenwashing'
  4. Orbán refuses to discuss Russia oil embargo at EU summit
  5. Turkey's Erdogan snubs Greek PM
  6. ECB: Crypto may pose a risk to financial stability
  7. UK PM Johnson faces renewed questions over Covid party
  8. Sweden gives 5th Covid shot to people over 65, pregnant women

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  2. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June
  3. 'No progress in years' in Libya, says UN migration body
  4. Toxic pesticide residue in EU fruit up 53% in a decade
  5. Orbán's overtures to Moscow are distasteful and detrimental
  6. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is back
  7. EU aims to seize Russian assets amid legal unclarity
  8. Close ties with autocrats means security risk, Nato chief warns

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us