European Parliament calls halt to Commission spending on expert groups

9 May 2012

European Parliament calls halt to Commission spending on expert groups

The European Parliament has refused to release the money budgeted for the European Commission’s expert groups, committees established by the Commission to advise on EU legislation and policy. Commenting on the decision, SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong says: ‘Together with a broad group of MEPs I presented concrete demands to the Commission. The composition of the expert groups would have to change: no more CEOs masquerading as independent experts. For balance, small business people and representatives of trade unions, environmental groups and consumer advocates should be appointed more frequently. Now that the European Commission has shown itself unwilling to discuss this with us, the Parliament has slammed on the brakes.’

De Jong was pleased with the unanimous support for the placing in reserve of the moneys allotted in the budgetary committee. ‘Blocking the budget is the strongest means the European Parliament has to express its power other than our right to sack the Commission, and will certainly make an impression on them,’ says De Jong. Only if the Commission meets the Parliament’s demands will the money be released. In addition to ending the unbalanced composition of the groups, the EP wants to see greater openness regarding the agendas and minutes of their meetings. All of the information on expert groups should be available on a single website, and reimbursement of expenses must be subject to sound regulation. The current situation makes it almost impossible for small business people, for example, to participate.

Others beside the SP have long had criticisms of the functioning of the estimated nine hundred expert groups, while many participants share this discontent. ‘We’re often nothing more than tokens,’ European Trade Union Confederation representative Veronica Nilsson told a meeting on the issue organised by the SP last December. At the same meeting the Dutch Ombudsman Alex Brenninkmeijer set out his proposal for the establishment of a code of conduct for participation in the expert groups, a proposal which won broad support from organisations concerned with consumer rights, from trade unions, representatives of small- and medium-sized enterprises, the anti-corruption group Transparency International and lobbying watchdog ALTER-EU. ‘That the European Commission is in no hurry to bring about any far-reaching changes to the expert groups could also be connected to the fact that there is only one single official responsible for coordinating all nine hundred of them, which is obviously not enough to put matters in order and take the criticisms from the Parliament and social organisations seriously.’

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