- ‘Cash-for-influence’ scandal brings momentum to ALTER-EU campaign;
- New ALTER-EU members Euro Coop and Formindep.
On March 20, the Sunday Times, a UK newspaper, published the results of the ‘sting’ – soon to become the ‘cash-for-influence’ scandal – that its journalists had performed. Posing as lobbyists, they offered 60 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) remuneration in return for political services, be it in the form of cash, or a 100,000 Euro, year-long position on the board of the firm. 14 MEPs had discussions with the undercover journalists. Four of these have been exposed as accepting the offer and two of those four – the Austrian former interior minister Strasser and the Slovenian former foreign minister Thaler – have stepped down. The Romanian former vice-prime minister Severin has been ousted by his party and European Parliament group but so far refuses to give up his seat. The fourth, the Spanish MEP Zalba, who tabled amendments for the journalists without receiving money (although he considered membership of the lobby firm’s board), got the backing of his party the ‘Partido Popular’ of Spain and the European conservative group, the EPP, and remains in parliament.
For ALTER-EU, the scandal – which may well be the biggest scandal in the Parliament’s 53 year history – meant a renewed interest from the European Parliament (EP) in the issues that we raise. Reacting to the scandal, MEPs from different political groups are calling for a mandatory lobby transparency register to be introduced, to curb the wide-spread practice of MEPs having side jobs, and to put restrictions on hospitality and gifts.
Some of these measures are going to be discussed in an ad hoc 10 MEP strong working group that will be led by the EP’s president Mr Buzek. ALTER-EU will closely monitor this process, which is likely to be finalised in July. The last couple of weeks ALTER-EU has already been very active in the debate with press releases (and here), interviews and a public reaction to Mr Buzek’s proposals.
Also in this edition we have asked two of our recently joined members to present themselves. The first is Euro Coop, the European community of consumer co-operatives. Euro Coop has members in 17 countries, representing over 3,200 local and regional co-operatives that include more than 29 million consumers across Europe. The second is Formindep, an association of concerned individuals and groups that aims to provide independent, medical training and information that is free of interests other than public health. This association helped ALTER-EU members to protest against the appointment of Thomas Lönngren, ex-director of European Medicines Agency, who after 10 year with this EU agency went straight through the revolving door to the pharmaceutical industry, posing a serious conflict of interest.
Finally, we would like to thank those of you who have responded to our request to renew your support on the basis of ALTER-EU’s ten key demands. For those of you who haven’t yet done so, we are looking forward to your reconfirmation.
New ALTER-EU members
We asked Euro Coop (European-wide network) and Formindep (France) why they joined ALTER-EU and how they see their role in relation to other members. We also asked Euro Coop for examples of urgently needed progress on social, environmental and consumer-protection reforms that have been postponed, weakened or even blocked as a result of influence exerted by corporate lobbyists. Formindep we asked how they experience ‘corporate secrecy’, ‘privileged access’ and ‘excessive industry influence’ in their work at the national and European levels.
Here’s how they answered.
Euro Coop is the European Association of Consumer Co-operatives. Co-operatives are enterprises that behave in compliance with values and principles. One of those principles is transparency that is why Euro Coop totally endorses the 10 key demands of ALTER-EU for a more transparent lobbying in Brussels, on the part of the EU institutions and of the lobbyists themselves. Transparency is an ethical issue in Euro Coop’s view. Moreover, consumer co-operatives work in defence of consumers and in that regard the ending of corporate lobbying privileges is more than welcome.
As a new signatory of the ALTER-EU initiative, Euro Coop is ready to be part of the campaigns led by the alliance and to advocate, along with all the other organizations who support the initiative, in favour of a more transparent lobbying and to put an end to the conflicts of interests between industry lobbies and the European institutions.
Just to give two examples of issues that urgently need progress from a social, environmental and consumer-protection perspective, that got postponed, weakened or even blocked, as a result of influence exerted by corporate lobbyists are the insurance of a GMO free food supply chain and the setting up of a collective redress system in Europe. Many other examples exist and it is therefore necessary to continue our efforts towards lobbying transparency.
For more information about Euro Coop: http://www.eurocoop.coop/.
Formindep has been working since 2004 in France to promote the independence of medical training and information from any interest interfering with the patients’ interest. The main obstacle to a rationale and safe healthcare is presently the pharmaceutical industry lobby whose influence is such that it ghost manages the whole healthcare system in France.
We decided to join ALTER-EU to share information and join efforts with other fora as the public decision is increasingly centralised at the European level (medicines at EMA for instance).
Our actions mainly target the public health authorities. We demand accountability in their relations with the lobbies. To this aim we use and promote the citizens toolkit: transparency, disclosure of conflicts of interests, easy access to public documents, litigations against the State, complaints before the European ombudsman. Our ongoing actions include: campaigning with ALTER-EU against former EMA director revolving door case. And appealing before the French Council of State against official guidelines applying to diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease that we deem unsafe as the result of massive, uncontrolled conflicts of interests in the course of their elaboration.
For more information about Formindep: http://www.formindep.org/.