Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Commission's Refusal to Block Revolving Door triggers Ombudsman Complaint

Corporate Europe Observatory, alongside Greenpeace, Lobbycontrol and Spinwatch, have submitted a complaint about the Commission's repeated refusal to take the revolving door problem seriously. The 'revolving door' describes the movement of staff from public sector positions to lobby jobs in the private sector, or vice versa. The Commission's laissez-faire approach to the revolving door has failed to prevent former employees selling their knowledge and influence to industry, while industry lobbyists are recruited to work on the staff. Rules exist, but are not being properly implemented - and when breaches do occur, no proper sanctions are imposed. We have submitted a complaint to the European Ombudsman as we believe this situation undermines the credibility of decision making in the Commission, contributing to the corporate capture of the EU.
  
A large number of senior EU staff have moved through the "revolving door" to jobs as industry lobbyists, or vice versa, creating potential conflicts of interest.* Over the years that CEO and other watchdog groups have been documenting these cases, the Commission has seemed reluctant to take the breaches of its own rules seriously. Frequently failing to impose restrictions or cooling-off periods where there is clear risk of conflicts of interest, neglecting to impose sanctions when rules are breached, and systematically failing to properly scrutinise the moves.

The Staff Regulations that govern the EU institutions should ensure that staff are scrutinised for conflicts of interest, both when entering and leaving their position. For two years after leaving, staff must inform the Commission of new jobs. If such jobs relate to the work they did as an official, and could lead to a conflict with “the legitimate interests of the institution”, the Commission can forbid it, or approve it subject to appropriate conditions or restrictions. Yet the Commission repeatedly fails to ensure staff are aware of, or that they comply with, their obligations, it inadequately scrutinises new jobs, and fails to impose appropriate restrictions.

The complaint highlights 10 cases that illustrate the revolving door problem and the Commission's refusal to address it, including:
    • the former EU ambassador to the United States, John Bruton, who went on to became a senior advisor to Brussels-based lobby consultancy Cabinet DN. Bruton did not inform the Commission of his move and later said he did not know he was supposed to;

    • a former senior Energy Advisor in the Commission, Derek Taylor, who retired after 25 years, and immediately set up his own energy consultancy and took several other energy lobby jobs, but only applied for permission two years later. Despite this breach of rules, the Commission requested no further details nor imposed any sanctions or restrictions;
    • the Head of Cabinet to Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Verheugen, Petra Erler, set up an EU lobby consultancy with Verheugen immediately after leaving her post, but only applied for permission four months later, noting that she had not been made aware of this requirement. Authorisation was granted, with narrow restrictions, despite the documented disagreement of all staff representatives on an internal advisory committee.
We argue that such cases create the threat of conflicts of interest, allowing the former staff member is able to exploit their knowledge and contacts in the interests of lobbying for their new employer, providing the potential for excessive and undue influence. This contributes significantly to the corporate capture of European policy-making processes. Transparency International has described the "excessive and undue influence of lobbyists in the European corridors of power” as a form of "legal corruption".

The complaint's submission comes just days after the European Court of Auditors condemned the Commission's agencies for failing to manage conflicts of interest, including those created by the revolving door. The four Commission agencies, which make vital decisions affecting people's health and safety in the areas of aviation, chemicals, food and medicines, were all found to inadequately manage the risk of conflicts of interest.

The Court's investigation uncovered declarations of interest left unexamined in sealed envelopes by the chemicals agency. They found that EFSA, the food safety agency, saw no conflict of interest in their experts acting as private sector double agents - simultaneously providing private consultancy on the same concept they were scientifically reviewing. Nor was a conflict of interest identified in allowing the majority of a scientific body, designed to neutrally assess a concept, to be former advocates of that same concept.

It is becoming more and more evident that there is an institutional lack of recognition of the impacts that unmanaged conflicts of interest, and undue influence of corporate interests via the revolving door, have on public-interest decision making.

CEO, along with other civil society groups, have been campaigning for the Commission to take firmer action against revolving door cases, but Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, in charge of transparency issues, has repeatedly dismissed these concerns, implying that there are no consistent failures, or that the revolving door problem has been solved.

This attitude, and the wider political culture, have precipitated our complaint to the Ombudsman. The 10 case studies, alongside our continually updated RevolvingDoorWatch, illustrate that the revolving door problem is alive and well.

Read the complaint here.

* The OECD defines a conflict of interest as occurring: “when an individual or a corporation (either private or governmental) is in a position to exploit his or their own professional or official capacity in some way for personal or corporate benefit.”

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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

What was discussed during Commissioner Rehn's meetings with Goldman Sachs? Euro Commissioner has a transparency problem.

Since the start of the eurocrisis, the European Commission has gained significant new powers to monitor and intervene in government budgets at a member-state level in the name of ‘economic governance’. At the same time, as a member of the Troika (with the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank), the Commission has prescribed controversial austerity and privatisation programmes for Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Many of these powers sit in the hands of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN) and Commissioner Olli Rehn. But power must be accountable. And while they’re more powerful than ever, their appetite for transparency appears very limited.

In February this year I set out to find out more about who Commissioner Rehn has been consulting with about the Commission’s eurocrisis policies, including the Troika programmes. I submitted an online request for access to all the correspondence and minutes of meetings between Commissioner Rehn, his cabinet and DG ECFIN staff and private sector companies and lobby groups. The EU’s transparency regulation gives the Commission three weeks to reply to such requests, but it took three months and several reminders before I got a very limited response. This provided short notes of a small number of meetings between the Troika and banks and companies in Ireland. There was nothing about Greece or Portugal, or about meetings outside the context of the Troika.

I asked the Commission to do another search covering the full range of documents I had requested. Another three months later – and after several further reminders – I finally received an envelope with 44 documents, relating to Rehn and his cabinet. The Commission said a response from DG ECFIN would follow. Five weeks later this still hasn’t arrived.

Forty four documents might sound like a lot, but 43 of these concerned correspondence about companies and lobby groups wanting to meet with Rehn. These included Goldman Sachs, KBC, BBVA, Moody’s and Mason Capital Management, as well as the European Banking Federation. There was only one letter of substance (from the trade union federation ETUC expressing its concerns about the Troika imposing harsh austerity measures), but no reply from Rehn. Didn’t Rehn receive any other letters about the EU’s policies on the crisis? There was at least one from NGOs (co-signed by Corporate Europe Observatory) about privatisation imposed by the Troika on Greece and Portugal. Four months later, the NGOs are still waiting for a response.

Apart from the missing documents, there are two other big problems with the 43 emails and letters released by Rehn’s cabinet. Firstly, many names of lobbyists are crossed out with a thick black pen. The Commissions claims that crossing out these names is “compliant with the rules on personal data protection”. But those who asked for meetings with Vice-President Rehn did not do this in a personal capacity, but as employed staff of companies or lobby groups aiming to influence EU decision-making. There is therefore no justification for keeping these names secret. Secondly, the Commission states that “no minutes were drafted for any of these meetings” with lobbyists. Rehn appears to have had at least three meetings during the last 12 months with Goldman Sachs’ heavyweights such as Lloyd Blankfein and Richard Gnodde. Yet no notes were taken? At other Commission DGs, such as DG Trade, note-taking is standard procedure, so it would be rather unusual if this was the case.

This whole experience suggests that transparency is not a priority for Commissioner Rehn or for DG ECFIN. Inadequate, delayed responses to requests for access to documents is a violation of the EU’s Regulation 1049/2001. The Commission, not least in the light of the new powers it has gained, should fully respect its own rules – and it should do more than that.

Commissioner Rehn’s website does not list his meetings (there is only a diary for that particular week). It is high time the European Commission embraced a policy of pro-active transparency by posting lists of meetings with lobbyists on its website. This would be a crucial step towards securing the citizens’ right to know. It would also save watchdogs, journalists and others engaging in access-to-documents requests, as well as the Commission itself, a lot of time and energy. The UK Government has been doing this for several years: a list of meetings with lobbyists is made available per government department, updated quarterly.

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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Climate sceptics launch Citizens Initiative to suspend EU climate targets - who's paying?

Earlier this month the European Commission gave a green light for the ninth European Citizens Initiative (ECI) – a proposal to “Suspend the 2009 EU Climate & Energy Package”, the EU’s plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and to increase the use of renewable energy by 2020. The organisers can now start collecting the one million signatures needed for the Commission to consider their proposal. The proposal also demands the suspension of “further climate regulations until a climate agreement is signed by major CO2 emitters - China, USA, and India.”

The individuals behind the proposal include Ludwik Dorn, a Polish conservative politician, and Fay Patricia Kelly-Tuncay, who leads the UK Campaign to Repeal the Climate Change Act. Other members of the citizens’ committee include Vitezslav Kremlik, who chairs the Czech blog www.klimaskeptik.cz, Anders Primdahl Vistisen of the youth branch of the far-right Danish People’s Party and Robert Stelzl, assistant to Austrian MEP Ewald Stadler of BZÖ (the party led by Jörg Haider until he died in 2008).

So who is funding this campaign by climate sceptics to sabotage EU targets for CO2 cuts? Fossil fuel companies have a long history, both in the US and in Europe, of covertly financing opponents of government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the ECI website’s “Sources of support and funding” the
Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group in the European Parliament has provided 2,500 euro. The EDF brings together far right Eurosceptic MEPs from parties including Lega Nord in Italy, the UK Independence Party, True Finns and LAOS (Greece).

It seems a little strange that a European Citizens’ Initiative should be funded by a group of MEPs, but 2,500 euro is a small sum and the bigger question is where further funds will come from. Gathering one million signatures across Europe within just twelve months will require a far larger budget. The ECI for the human right to water to be recognised by the EU, for instance, has a budget of 100,000 euro (paid for by the Federation of Public Service Unions).

The ECI rules state that ECI organisers must “provide, on a regular basis, up-to-date information on all sources of support and funding for your initiative worth more than €500 per year and per sponsor.
I asked the Commission how often and according to which deadlines do ECI organisers have to update this information? Does the European Commission remind them of this? So far I’ve not received a response. I asked EPSU, the organisers of the ECI for the human right to water, what information they were asked for by the Commission. It appears that it is all up to the ECI organisers themselves to decide; there are no deadlines and no reminders.

If this is indeed the case, then that’s a far too laid-back approach to actually secure effective transparency. When citizens are asked to sign an ECI petition, they should be able to assess who’s behind the campaign, including who pays. That requires regular updating of the financial information on the ECI website.

The Commission should take the issue of funding transparency more seriously than appears to be the case now. Of the nine ECI’s given the go ahead by the Commission so far, four have provided no funding information at all. If the Commission does not ask them for this information and if other five are only required to report once, when they first submit the ECI, then that’s not going to lead to adequate transparency around European Citizen Initiatives.

The first nine ECIs and their sources of support and funding:

  • Suspend the 2009 EU Climate & Energy Package: 2,500 euro from EFD Group in EP
  • Pour une gestion responsable des déchets, contre les incinérateurs: no information on funding sources
  • High Quality European Education for All: 10 individuals, organisations and schools give 1,000 euro each
  • Stop vivisection: three NGOs give a total of 5,100 euro
  • Let me vote (granting EU citizens residing in another Member State the right to vote in all political elections in their country of residence): no information on funding sources
  • One of us (opposed to EU funding for stem cell research): FONDAZIONE VITA NOVA contributes 50,000 euro
  • Water and sanitation are a human right! Water is a public good, not a commodity! the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) contributes 100,000 euro
  • Single Communication Tariff Act (End roaming fees across Europe): no information on funding sources
  • Fraternité 2020 - Mobility. Progress. Europe (aims to enhance EU youth exchange programmes): no information on funding sources

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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Better control of EU revolving door needed

The revolving door has been in the headlines again in recent weeks with the speedy departure of a top official from the EU's medicines agency to a prominent law firm. Such moves, known as going through the revolving door, can allow the private sector to 'capture' or unduly influence the work of the public sector and it is vital that all public authorities including the EU agencies and the European Commission take this threat seriously. This example and other recent revolving door cases again raise questions as to how well the EU institutions implement the current rules, and whether the Commission will seize the initiative to tighten up on the loopholes which undermine them.

Vincenzo Salvatore was the Head of Legal Service at the European Medicines Agency until June 2012 when he announced that he would be moving to the law firm Sidley Austin to work in their European life sciences regulatory practice. Sidley Austin said that Professor Salvatore would be providing “clients with strategic legal counseling on the EU’s legal process regulating all aspects of the pharmaceutical industry...”, a role for which his time at EMA would undoubtedly have been useful preparation.

Such a senior official as Salvatore is likely to have been aware of the revolving door rules in place at the agency and the need for “officials intending to engage in an occupational activity … [to] inform their institution thereof”. After all, Salvatore was Head of Legal Service when the former director of that agency, Thomas Lönngren, himself went through the revolving door. In that case, EMA only belatedly applied restrictions on Dr Lönngren's new consultancy work.

Professor Salvatore was quoted in the Financial Times on 5 July 2012 as saying: “There is nothing to stop people working in their field of expertise”. Sidley Austin has told Corporate Europe Observatory: "Sidley and Professor Salvatore have followed every procedure required regarding his departure from the EMA. Since we are awaiting the results as the EMA works through its process, it is not appropriate to comment further at this time."

Yet EMA appears to have been caught on the hop by this move. Guido Rasi, the new Executive Director of the European Medicines Agency, told the Financial Times: "I have not approved any post-EMA activities for Vincenzo Salvatore. Before he left the Agency ... he indicated he was intending to work as an independent lawyer and as consultant for some law firms, but without providing any specific details." Rasi went on to say that he has set up a review which will probe possible conflicts of interest arising from this case.

[At the original time of writing, the review had yet to report. Now (6 August 2012) this review has reported back and EMA has imposed several conditions upon Salvatore. You can read all the latest details on this case here.]

Loopholes

An interesting element of the Salvatore case is that he was a contract agent (rather than a permanent official) at EMA and it is clear that there are loopholes in the revolving door rules for contract agents.

Contract agents are only covered by the EU's revolving door rules if they are considered to have had access to “sensitive information” during their time at the EU institution. Of course, as Head of EMA's Legal Service it is hard to see how Professor Salvatore would not have had access to sensitive information during his time at EMA, and so would not be exempt, but this loophole is regularly applied to other EU officials.

Take the case of Darren Ennis. When he left the European External Action Service (EEAS) in summer 2011 for a new job as director at MHP Communications in Brussels, he had, according to the EEAS: “not had access to sensitive information during his time with the European External Action Service and was consequently not deemed subject to the obligation of requesting authorisation to take up an offer from another employer in accordance with Article 16 of the Staff Regulations".

Ennis had only been working for the newly-formed EEAS for a month when he resigned, and so arguably, may not have come into contact with “sensitive information” during this time. However, this is not the whole story.

According to his biography on the MHP website, Ennis was appointed as Catherine Ashton's media and strategic communications advisor not long after her own appointment in December 2009 as EU High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security. In this role, the website says he had “a key role in developing her narrative for EU foreign policy and helping deliver her political messages to world leaders and media around the globe”. It seems hard to imagine that “sensitive information” was not involved in this work. Yet, Ennis's move to MHP was unregulated and unscrutinised for possible conflicts of interest.

This goes too for the move by Harald Boerekamp from DG ECHO (which handles humanitarian aid and civil protection matters) to Interel European Affairs, one of Brussels largest lobby firms, in May 2012. According to DG ECHO, Boerekamp did not need authorisation to join Interel as he had not had access to sensitive information, even though he had worked at that DG for nearly two years; and had previously been with the Commission’s secretariat general for another year.

Overall, CEO considers that the definition of “sensitive information” needs clarifying and that the revolving door rules should be applied to all contract agents with a policy-making role or any significant working history at an EU institution. CEO also wants to see a cooling-off period of two years for all EU staff entering lobby or lobby advisory jobs, to avoid the risk of conflicts of interest.

Incoming officials

There are other weaknesses in the revolving door rules and the way in which they are implemented. Just as important as the outgoing revolving door – perhaps even more so - is the incoming revolving door, when staff join an EU institution from a job which might provoke a risk of a conflict of interests. The rules governing the incoming revolving door require staff to declare any possible conflicts of interest that they might have related to their present functions as an official.

Marcus Lippold worked for ExxonMobil from 1992 until he joined the Commission to work in a series of oil and energy-related jobs. Originally he was a senior energy economist at DG-TREN (transport and energy), working on oil and coal-related legislation, including European oil upstream and downstream sectors and related refinery products and product markets. In 2009, he led a study assessing the competitive aspects of the oil product markets in the EU 27. His current role is as international relations officer working at DG Energy.

You might assume that an official with a history of working for the oil industry would be scrutinised by the Commission for conflicts of interest if he was undertaking work related to the energy industry. Yet this does not appear to have happened. Based on evidence gathered by CEO via access to documents, it seems that the Commission has not undertaken any assessment of possible conflicts of interest considering Lippold's previous career at ExxonMobil. CEO considers there is a risk of conflicts of interest arising in his current role which the Commission has not recognised, explored or taken any action to prevent.

CEO believes that the current rules are weak in this area and instead of relying on officials to step forward to raise potential conflicts of interest, the institutions themselves should be proactive in scrutinising all incoming staff, including whenever they move to a new job internally.

Flawed

These cases appear to indicate flaws with the EU's current revolving door rules – and it is time for a revamp. All EU bodies should make sure that they have robust rules in place which ensure that all incoming and outgoing staff are scrutinised for potential conflicts of interest and that any necessary restrictions, recusals or cooling-off periods are applied to protect the public interest.

As CEO has said elsewhere, it is time that the revolving door was taken more seriously and that the rules became fit for purpose.

Further information on these and other revolving door cases can be found at CEO's web page RevolvingDoorWatch

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Thursday, 12 July 2012

DG Enterprise needs to kick corporate lobbyists out of its expert groups

ALTER-EU presented its new report on the dominance of corporate lobbyists in DG Enterprise's expert groups at a packed event in the Residence Palace, Brussels, this week, organised in partnership with the Austrian Trade Union Federation and the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour.

Dennis de Jong MEP and Lluís Prats representing DG Enterprise, both speaking on the panel, told us that the Commission had sent a paper to the MEPs just a few hours earlier recognising that there was indeed 'industry over-representation' in 17 expert groups under this DG. Our report claims this is the case for 32 groups.

We looked at the list of 17 groups which the Commission recognises to be problematic.[1] We were surprised to see that two of our case studies from the report were not even included. The FP7 Security Advisory Group, which has nine corporate representatives and only three from academia; and the European Business Organisation Worldwide, which is a lobby group in its own right, that has been given the status of a Commission expert group.

The FP7 Security Advisory Group also presents a problem of conflict of interest with the same companies that advise the Commission on the research agenda, applying for the money on offer.

And why aren't other groups such as the Working Group on Emission from Non Road Mobile Machinery Engines which has 35 corporate representatives and only one academic seen as a problem by the Commission?

In any case, there is some progress in that at least there is consensus around 17 groups and the Commission is now considering whether to 'reduce the number of members from Industry in order to rebalance the composition of the group' (according to the document it sent to the Parliament). What is less clear is why the Commission needs six months to do this and why it should continue receiving biased advice from them in the meantime[2].

We believe MEPs should refuse to lift the reserve they have imposed to 20% of the expert group budget until the composition of groups has been sufficiently changed.

Lluís Prats also claimed DG Enterprise has reduced the number of its expert groups to 73. We based our report on data we retrieved from the Commission's expert groups register on April 3, 2012. At that time there were 83 groups under DG Enterprise. The day after our event (July 11), there were still 80 groups there. Which shows that it is impossible for citizens to have an exact picture of what is going on with Commission's advisory bodies. The Commission should define specific times for when the register is updated and guarantee that between updates the situation presented is accurate. If it wants to adhere to principles of transparent governance the registers need to be reliable.

Andreas Botsch from the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) told the event that DG Enterprise has practically stopped involving unions in its advisory bodies over the last decade. Today, only 11 union representatives participate in advisory groups compared with 482 corporate representatives. DG Enterprise is ignoring employees and workers who play such an important role in running the economy. Botsch criticised the general orientation of the Commission according to which the supply side is all that it counts while the needs of consumers and employees are marginalised.

The Commission spokesman ended his remarks by saying ''we are DG Enterprise and Industry, we talk to business, this is who we are''. He had previously said: ''it is important that the voices of companies and enterprises, not only SMEs, are heard in this process. It is with their profits, with their growth, with their increase in productivity, with their products that we will be able to get out of this economic crisis we are in.'' By saying this, he demonstrated that he had missed the main point of ALTER-EU's report, maintaining that the Commission's ideological bias in favour of the interests of big corporations is justified.

This is despite the fact that large corporations provide only a small percentage of the overall employment in Europe (with SMEs and the public sector providing the vast majority of jobs), and despite the fact that the profitability of big corporations seems to be unconnected and sometimes even opposed to improving living standards of citizens. DG Enterprise seemed to be sticking to the dogma that what is good for big business is good for all, while still recognising that some expert groups have to be ''rebalanced''.

Monica Macovei MEP from the European People's Party couldn't attend due to political circumstances in Romania. She nevertheless expressed her full support for ALTER-EU's work in a written statement saying the composition of DG Enterprise's expert groups ''does not reflect societal interests well'' and therefore ''we must continue to push for more transparency and wider representation in the Commission's advisory groups''.

[1] 1) Working group on Motor Vehicles, 2) Working group on Motorcycles, 3) Working group on Agricultural Tractors, 4)• Fertilisers Working group, 5) Working group Measuring Instruments, 6) Advisory Committee on Community Policy regarding Forestry and Forest-based Industries, 7)• Expert group on the Annual European Tourism Forum, 8) Working group on Explosives, 9) Eco-design Consultation forum, 10)Ferrous and non-ferrous metals competitiveness expert group, 11) Strategic Advisory Board on Competitiveness and Innovation (STRABO), 12) High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain, 13)• CARS 21, 14) European Multi-Stakeholders Platform on ICT Standardisation, 15)• Expert group on the revision of the LeaderSHIP strategy, 16) Ad-hoc Advisory Group on Non-Annex I Products, 17) Raw Materials Supply group

[2]''The aim is for these groups to have a modified and balanced composition by the start of 2013 at the latest'', says the Commission's document sent to the Parliament.

You can find below the videos of the event:

- Introduction and presentation of the report by ALTER-EU

- Intervention of Lluís Prats from DG Enterprise

- Intervention of Dennis de Jong MEP

- Discussion

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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Severin: Time for action

It is now 16 months since the cash-for-influence scandal rocked the European Parliament and led to the resignation of two MEPs (Ernest Strasser and Zoran Thaler). A third MEP, Adrian Severin of Romania was sacked by the Socialist group but refused to resign from the Parliament. After the scandal, MEPs developed a new Code of Conduct aimed at preventing this from happening again, but it only came in on 1 January 2012 and cannot be applied retrospectively. So what happened next to Severin?

You may be surprised to learn that Severin is still an active MEP despite video tape evidence of him charging 12 000 euros for “two to three days’ work” which included persuading MEP Sebastian Bodu (Romania, European People’s Party) to table an amendment. Severin was promoting this amendment on behalf of a corporate client and expected to be paid for the service (information which was concealed from Bodu at the time). What Severin did not realise was that his corporate client was fake and that this was a sting operation by journalists at the Sunday Times.

Shockingly, Severin has faced no punishment from the European parliamentary authorities since the scandal broke. Documents secured by Magdalena Moreh, the Brussels-based correspondent for Romanian Public Television (TVR), show that the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) recommended that Severin be considered for sanction under the Parliament’s rules of procedure. After an investigation, OLAF concluded that Severin “did not act independently when he supported an amendment to European legislation in the legislative process in return for payment”. OLAF has also passed its file to the authorities in Severin’s home country of Romania and recommended “judicial action”.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz has the power to impose one of the, albeit weak, sanctions at his disposal on Severin. Yet according to sources close to President Schulz, his decision will depend on what action the Romanian authorities take.

In January 2012, in a somewhat bizarre development, Severin complained to the European Ombudsman about the way in which he had been investigated by OLAF; the Ombudsman has yet to rule on this complaint. Meanwhile, OLAF wrote in its concluding note to the previous President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek that while it had received Severin's full cooperation during their investigation, they were not able to “acquire forensic electronic data in the European Parliament or to conduct interviews with witnesses due to the European Parliament’s refusal to provide the necessary support”. Elsewhere OLAF has said that the Parliament refused to cooperate with their two attempts to search Mr Severin’s office and those of the other MEPs.

The Parliament was apparently concerned about OLAF's remit to investigate and the immunity of MEPs. OLAF has now told CEO that its Director-General Giovanni Kessler and Martin Schulz have recently launched talks to clarify the legal situation concerning OLAF’s investigation of Members of the Parliament.

In another recent development, the senior Socialist MEP Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg (who is also a member of the Bureau which is responsible for the enforcement of the new MEP code of conduct) wrote a comment piece in which she defended Severin’s actions and argued that he should be considered innocent until proven guilty. The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation has published a robust response to her article.

The case of Severin has clearly challenged the parliamentary authorities, as well as the previous European Parliamentary leadership of Mr Buzek and the current presidency of Mr Schulz. And with the Romanian investigations still pending, it remains unclear whether President Schulz will sanction Severin and show, once and for all, that agreeing a payment in return for influencing parliamentary business is totally unacceptable.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Another year without real transparency

The Transparency Register has not been the success the Commission claims it is. In a recent article in the European Voice (“A year of living transparently”, 21-27 June), Maroš Šefcovic, the European commissioner for administration, describes the Transparency Register as “a great success” and highlights it as proof of the EU institutions’ efforts to be “as transparent as possible”.

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) – of which Corporate Europe Observatory is a part – recently published an analysis of the quantity and quality of the registrations. Our conclusion was not as cheerful as the commissioner’s. The register is very far from giving a full and accurate picture of the lobbying activities in Brussels. Lobbyists do not take it seriously and many continue to boycott it.

Voluntary approach will never be effective

The commissioner says the voluntary approach is “by far the simplest and most effective means of keeping track of lobbying activities”. Simple as it may be, it is not effective at all if the aim is to provide a tool that allows for the effective monitoring of lobbying.

A great number of law firms that lobby (which are notorious for their opposition to transparency) are absent from the register. More than 120 enterprises active in lobbying have not registered either. And let us be clear: these are not just any company, but big players such as Deutsche Bank, Monsanto, Goldman Sachs or Apple. So there is still a lot going on in the shadows.

Regarding mandatory disclosure, Mr Šefčovič resorts to the stale argument of the lack of a legal basis. In fact, this is a matter of political will, rather than of legal bounds. There are possibilities that could be considered, like an inter-institutional agreement, as proposed by the European Parliament in a resolution in 2008.

If the Commission takes the initiative now, mandatory registering could be achieved in two or three years’ time. In any case, registration should be a requirement for lobbyists who wish to have regular access to European politicians and officials.

Reliability at risk

Furthermore, the register is littered with inaccurate data, misleading entries and blatant attempts to hide the real nature of lobbying activities (hence the title of our analysis: ‘dodgy data’). Many registrants fail to reveal what topics they have lobbied on, on whose behalf and with what budget.

The financial disclosure figures, essential to get a sense of the volume of lobbying, often appear to be inaccurate or misleading: in fact, more than 50 registrants claim to spend less than €1 on lobbying a year. The highest lobbying expenditure for a company in Brussels is declared by the American camera-equipment producer Panavision, which declares spending €35million. This is more than ExxonMobil, Shell and GDF Suez combined, which seems rather unrealistic.

Last year, ALTER-EU members objected to Shell’s declared lobby expenditure, considering it to be unrealistically low. The European Commission rejected this, but shortly after, Shell adjusted its entry (it increased tenfold, from €400,000 to €4 million).

The Commission says that it does checks on the data in the register but it seems clear that they do not have the capacity and perhaps the technology to really be able to verify the data in the way that is needed.

With all its shortcomings, the register is still a long way off from being a useful tool which would effectively monitor lobbying in Brussels. The conclusion is inescapable: if the Commission, Parliament and Council are committed to lobbying transparency, mandatory registering is unavoidable and urgent action is needed, including more rigorous checks to identify those that currently make a mockery out of “living transparently”.

Written by Koen Roovers (ALTER-EU) and Ester Arauzo (Corporate Europe Observatory)

This article is a longer version of the letter “Transparency list is being abused” published in The European Voice, on 28 June 2012

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