SP: Cabinet must stand up to EU industry lobby (update)

28 March 2008

SP: Cabinet must stand up to EU industry lobby (update)

The Cabinet must call for a halt to the excessive influence exercised by corporate business in the drafting of European legislation. In a series of parliamentary questions, SP Member of Parliament and European Affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel today called on the government to resist corporate influence at EU level.

This week research carried out by the pressure group ALTER-EU revealed that a total of 1,192 committees advises the European Commission during the drafting and passage of legislation and that corporate business interests are over-represented on every one of them. In 25% of cases such interests make up over half of the membership. Researchers encountered solid resistance from the European Commission to their enquiries and in some cases received no information on the make-up of certain committees.

Harry van Bommel In Harry van Bommel's opinion, that says everything. "The EU in this way gives industry a platform from which it can, in complete secrecy, determine the course of a particular piece of legislation, even over such controversial matters as biotechnology and carbon storage. That is unacceptable. The composition of these committees must be changed, and quickly, and in the worst cases they should be dispensed with."

The SP has long been concerned about the excessive influence exercised by corporate interests in Brussels. An earlier call for compulsory registration of lobbyists, listing those for whom they were working, was rejected out of hand, despite the fact that this is the norm elsewhere, including in the US Congress. The lack of transparency surrounding these advisory committees is even more of a problem. These people are invited by the European Commission to participate in the drawing up of legislation. This is why in Van Bommel's view "it can't also be the case that there is no openness whatsoever when it comes to knowing who they are and whom they represent. In addition I'd like to know just what criteria are applied to the composition of these committees. To take a few examples, do trade unions, environmental organisations and other interest groups have the same access to them as does industry and business? The work of the advisory committees forms an important starting point for new EU regulations and directives, so this represents a major democratic deficit."

Van Bommel is also of the opinion that it is absurd to maintain almost 1,200 advisory committees. "When I heard how many there were," he says, "it seemed immediately obvious to me where this enormous quantity of legislation comes from. Tens of thousands of people sit on these bodies, all of them charged with thinking what the EU can do in a certain field. A major reduction in their number could save a great deal of bureaucracy. As well as these advisory committees there are something like 20,000 officials in Brussels. This is all the evidence you need that the EU is more bureaucracy than democracy."


SP Euro-MP Erik Meijer also reacted to the Alter-EU report. "I agree with the conclusion that these advisory committees have a great deal of influence and are under no control," he said.

While Van Bommel will question the Dutch government about the matter, Meijer has put a number of written questions to the European Commission, emphasising the need for transparency. "Many of these expert groups are dominated by industry, and nobody has a complete insight into their workings, still less exercises any control over them," he said. "We are transferring a major part of policy development at European level to such meetings in back rooms and this is not in keeping with the principles of democracy."

In Meijer's view not only should a list of members of these committees be published but the way in which they are set up and their membership chosen must be made more transparent. "Over-representation of corporate business must be prevented and I have asked the Commission to introduce rules to ensure this. At the same time a code of conduct is needed to which members of these committees should be expected to adhere. It's obvious for instance that former employees of the European Commission should not be allowed to take part, and that explicit conflicts of interest should be prevented."

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