SP initiative leads to major clean-up of European Commission’s expert groups

6 September 2012

SP initiative leads to major clean-up of European Commission’s expert groups

The meeting on 5th September between a cross-party group of likeminded MEPs led by SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong, and a European Commission delegation got down to brass tacks in discussing the composition and working methods of the hundreds of official ‘expert groups’ which advise the Brussels executive. A large proportion of these groups are to be reformed, so that in the future representation on them will not be confined to the major corporations. Instead, smaller firms, trade unions, consumers, environmental organisations and other specialist interest groups will be represented. 'The Commission appeared contrite during the meeting and acknowledged that big corporations had been totally over-represented in the past,’ says De Jong. ‘All of the Commission’s services will now be given the task of drastically revising the composition and working methods of the expert groups.’

As the Commission wasn’t originally so accommodating, the European Parliament’s Budget Committee had frozen payments to the expert committees. The informal meeting was intended to break this impasse. During the summer the Commission had already committed a great deal of work to completing the information on the expert groups and taking a critical look at how representative the participants are.

Dennis de Jong‘In the past, experts have been seen as independent, even if they had professional or financial links to specific companies,’ says De Jong. ‘This has now come to an end: only experts with neither direct nor indirect links to stakeholders will be recognised as “independent”. In addition the golden rule will be that all stakeholders must be well-represented, and the Commission will be financially compensating small, independent firms and interest groups for costs incurred. This will make it much easier for small businesses, trade unions and other groups representing particular interests to free up the time and the resources needed to take part in the expert groups.’

Because the Commission has hundreds of such groups, and because this is a ‘work in progress’, it was agreed that informal meetings would continue. Via these, MEPs would bring future complaints regarding the expert groups involving inadequate transparency or uneven composition directly to the Commission’s attention. For its part, the Commission has promised to take immediate action in response. Rules on conflict of interest and on financing would be returned to and further developed in these informal meetings. In the event that problems continued to block progress during this dialogue, MEPs would not hesitate to renew their blocking of the budget line. ‘The atmosphere during the meeting was extremely good and I am confident that the Commission will keep its promises,’ says De Jong, ‘but it’s always good to keep a big stick handy.’

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