A broad range of Brussels-based pan European networks shared their points of view on the deficiencies of the current advisory structure of the Commission and stressed the central role that consultation and expertise seeking methods have in the democratic quality of the decision making process.
Yiorgos Vassalos, Researcher of Corporate Europe Observatory and spokesperson of ALTER-EU on the issue of expert groups set out the context of the discussion by stressing the bottom-line of civil society’s critique of the current system: ‘big business cannot be the non-state interest category most represented in Commission’s expert groups. Such a situation violates elementary democratic principles.’
Graphic designer Daan Dirk made the graphics in his presentation that can be found on our facebook page and attached.
Monique Goyens, Director General of the European Consumer’s Organisation (BEUC) relayed her organisation’s experience from participation in more than 80 expert groups. She deplored the complete regulatory capture is some policy areas such as intellectual property. She also identified a deeper problem that has to be addressed: that currently only industry representatives have sufficient resources to conduct fundamental research while general interest orientated bodies do not.
She concluded that the lesson that BEUC has learned from its experience with expert groups is that it is ‘better be absent than irrelevant’.
For BEUC in order to be involved in an expert group, the following criteria apply:
- The European Commission should chair the group;
- There should be a balanced representation;
- Travel costs should be reimbursed;
- Minority opinion should be listened to.
Ms Goyens’ powerpoint presentation can be found attached.
Joël Decaillon, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said that changing the way decisions are made and making it truly transparent touches upon very fundamental questions. It is ironic to see the European Banking Industry Committee being assigned the task of working on banking transparency by the Commission, when the very nature of banks means that they are not transparent. This is why the battle for transparency at all levels is fundamental. Today, it is also possible to see that the ‘Kinnock Reforms’ [a reform package that was adopted in the wake of a corruption scandal that resulted in the unprecedented mass resignation of the Commission in March 1999; red] did not bring more transparency to the functioning of the European Commission but only facilitated for corporate lobbyists to be embedded into the system.
Mr Decaillon also called civil society’s attention to the composition of the forth-coming High Level Group on Climate Change and gave the full support of ETUC to ‘the ALTER-EU movement’.
Ronny Patz, EU-liaison Officer of Transparency International shared his experiences from the 3 expert groups in which his organisation participates in order to assess the transparency of the process. TI has written an interesting blogpost about one of these groups. He noted that, unjustifiably, the Expert Groups Register of the Commission does not make use of technology that would permit all data to be downloadable and searchable so that citizens can monitor the advisory process. He suggested that lobby groups participating in expert groups should be given a single code linked to the lobby register, so that we can see, for instance, how many groups an unregistered group is participating in.
Gérard Choplin, Policy Officer of the European Coordination of Via Campesina, the International Peasant Movement, highlighted the harsh struggle of his movement in the nineties to acquire access in DG Agriculture’s advisory groups that have existed since the sixties. He said the situation there is still very unbalanced as half of the members come from only one lobby group: COPA-COGECA. The majority of their members may be small and medium family farmers but their leaders are often linked to the pesticide industry or are directors of agricultural banks. For Via Campesina it is quite clear they represent agri-business. There are also many representatives from the food industry (CIAA) and food traders (CELCAA ). Via Campesina would like to see the members of DG Agri’s expert groups reduced - so that the tax payer does not pay for COPA’s internal networking events - and so that it is more balanced.
The audience of the panel debate contributed lots of interesting campaigning ideas around how to mobilise the media, parliamentarians and the general public as well as how to help the Commission realise how useful proper engagement with civil society would be. Participating groups agreed to stay in contact in order to push this agenda forward.