Should speculators be given privileged access to dominate advice on financial regulation, beverage companies on alcohol policy, or fossil fuel companies on climate change?
A new report released today by ALTER-EU, AK EUROPA and ÖGB Europabüro shows the Commission is doing just that, putting big business in charge of its advisory groups despite promising MEPs reform over a year ago after they froze groups' budgets.
Should speculators be given privileged access to advise on financial regulation, beverage companies on alcohol policy, or fossil fuel companies on climate change? Worryingly for democracy, the European Commission is doing just that, despite promising it would not. Its Expert Groups, which play an influential role in advising on European legislation, continue to be dominated by big business interests, meaning corporate lobbyists and the vested interests they represent play a big role in shaping our laws and regulations. Concerns over the situation led the European Parliament to freeze the budget for Expert Groups in November 2011.
MEPs set four conditions for reform: no corporate dominance; no lobbyists sitting in groups in an independent capacity; open calls for participation; and full transparency. Parliament released the budget in September 2012 on the understanding that Expert Groups would significantly improve based on these conditions and MEPs and the Commission would work together through an 'Informal Dialogue'.
This report looks at all new Expert Groups created in the past year to assess whether the Commission is living up to its commitments to reform, and shows that to date the Informal Dialogue to oversee the process has not worked. Across the Commission many of the original problems have not been addressed, nor the conditions met, with certain key departments (Directorates General, or DGs) particularly worrying:
- In DG Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD), almost 80% of all stakeholders appointed in the last year who do not represent governments actually represent corporate interests, with only 3% representing small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and 1% representing trade unions; in the Secretariat-General (SG) corporate interests represent 64%; in DG Enterprise and Industry (ENTR), the figure is 62%.
- Meanwhile in the SG, over 73% of its 'independent' experts are actually directly linked to big business interests. Across all newly created Expert Groups, there are more corporate representatives than all other stakeholders combined.
The implications are particularly troubling, as we show in several case studies, for example where tax dodgers advise on tax reform, giant telecommunications companies dominate the debate on data privacy, or a closed shop of pro-big business experts monopolise advice on tackling the eurocrisis.
At a time when trust in political institutions – national and European – is at an all-time low,1 the Commission needs to ensure that Expert Groups are as democratic, transparent and accountable as possible, and not merely seen as doing corporations' bidding.
To ensure improvements materialise, the Commission should impose a moratorium on the creation of any new groups in the worst-performing DGs until existing ones improve – and if there is no improvement by the next Parliament, MEPs should fulfil their threat and refreeze all Commission Expert Group budgets.
ALTER-EU will also make the raw data it has analysed from the Commission's website publicly available. As it is an on-going process please inform firstname.lastname@example.org if you find any errors or inconsitencies (many of the spelling mistakes originate with the Commission) and we will strive to correct them as soon as possible.
1 Eurobarometer, Spring 2013, Standard Eurobarometer 79: Public Opinion in the European Union, First Results, available at http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb79/eb79_first_en.pdf