De Jong: Hearing on European agencies ‘surrealistic spectacle’

22 January 2014

De Jong: Hearing on European agencies ‘surrealistic spectacle’

Aside from the European Parliament’s budgetary control, European Union agencies are allowed to supervise and monitor themselves. The European Commission takes no part in supervision. This came to light during the hearings organised this week by the European Parliament on the agencies’ activities during 2012, as SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong explains: ‘Up to now the European Commission has often given the impression that it keeps a close eye on the integrity of these agencies,’ he says. ‘Now it turns out that they don’t have any right at all to do so. This makes the agencies extremely vulnerable to influence from corporate lobbyists, certainly when commercially important decisions are being taken regarding for instance whether certain ingredients of foodstuffs or particular medicines should be permitted.’

Dennis de JongDutch current affairs television programme Een Vandaag (One Today) demonstrated the extent to which conflicts of interest are a problem at, for example, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), because employees of major corporations are active within the agency as supposedly independent experts. ‘A year ago the Commission came up with guidelines aimed at producing a more active integrity policy for the agencies’ says De Jong. ‘The information we in the European Parliament receive on the implementation of these guidelines is, however, haphazard. The Commission itself was previously of the view that there remained a lot to do in regard to these agencies, but if we want any information we have to question each of the forty-three agencies separately. This is inefficient and greatly increases the chances of things going wrong.’

In addition to these problems, the effectiveness of the agencies is questionable, as De Jong explains: ‘Because the Commission says that it doesn’t have the power to deal with the agencies, we are still not being informed about the results of their work. There’s a great deal of overlap and the rail agency is even located in two separate places. Things could be made much more efficient were the agencies’ results better monitored and the EP were provided with an annual report of what has been achieved, as well as proposals for the scrapping or merger of agencies which aren’t functioning adequately. The present situation is untenable.’ A report recently commissioned by the SP from Radboud University in Nijmegen came to the same conclusion.

The EU has presently forty-three agencies, more than half of them established in the last decade. Many have their seat far from Brussels, making supervision from Brussels that much harder. The SP would therefore like to see a number of them rehoused in the city.

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