Transparency behind closed doors?

14 April 2019

Transparency behind closed doors?

Next week is the last Strasbourg week before the European elections. The working week begins Monday evening with two hearings on, respectively, conflicts of interest and political appointments, both in the presence of Budget and Human Resources Commissioner Günther Oettinger. The name connected to the issue of conflict of interest is that of Czech Prime Minister  Andrej Babis, into whose company Agrofert EU moneys have flowed. As for political appointments, we are of course thinking of the appointment of Martin Selmayr to the post of Secretary-General of the European Commission, though there have also been dodgy goings-on in the Parliament itself. In short, controversial matters. But what has the EP done? The decision has been to hold the hearings behind closed doors. Evidently there's a lot to hide, but I'll be certainly be protesting this secrecy during the hearings.

On 13th December the EP passed a resolution calling for rapid action to be taken against conflicts of interest in the case of Prime Minster Babis. Money has gone through various European funds into an enterprise belonging to the Czech Prime Minister, amounting in the first half of 2018 alone to €3.5 million in transfer payments made by Agrofert to him personally via trust constructions. The European Commission should have come up with new measures this month, but they are trying to put these on the back burner. In short, Oettinger has some explaining to do, as this is of course merely part of a bigger picture: we love transparency as long as it doesn't get to close too home.

The same goes for the political appointments in the EU institutions. Selmayr got the most attention, but in the EP too one after another high official functions have been political appointees. The trade unions for EU staff are angry, because this creates a glass ceiling. The study recently conducted by the EP Budgetary Control Committee demonstrates that there is an urgent need for more transparency and for open procedures, for which external expertise must be brought in in order to guarantee objectivity. But just as in the case of  Babis, this is difficult, because at the end of the day this is a clique of chums, and if you haven’t got any money or jobs to hand out, the chums won't be happy.

I don't expect marvels from tomorrow's meeting, but however that may be, I'll be keeping everyone up to date with developments via Twitter. This is by the bye my penultimate weeklog. Next week, after my Easter log, I'll be passing the baton to Arnout Hoekstra, who'll be picking it up with campaign news, because the European elections of 23rd May are getting closer by the day.

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