Thursday, 3 December 2009

Searching in vain for the EP's Chamber of Secrets (Intergroups Register)

In the last few weeks, CEO has tried in vain to access the European Parliament's Register of Intergroups. After numerous phone-calls and fruitless email correspondence, we raised the white flag and wrote a complaint letter to the Parliament's Quaestors instead. Our failed search for the register reveals an unacceptable lack of transparency.

In 2006 Corporate Europe Observatory published a survey of official and informal intergroups operating in and around the European Parliament. The so-called intergroups contain MEP's from different political families in the Parliament and are centered on a specific issue or area of interest (like Tibet or anti-racism). Some Intergroups are used as lobbying tools by special interests, for example the secretive Sky and Space Intergroup, which is run by ASD, the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe. This activity is absent in ASD's file in the Commission's lobbying transparency register.

During the 2006 survey it proved pretty difficult to find information on the intergroups officially registered with the European Parliament. It took quite some determination to get access to the room hidden deep in the EP labyrinth where the registration forms for all formal intergroups were kept in old-fashioned binders. And when we were finally able to take a look at the files, it turned out that most intergroups had failed to submit the updated and complete declarations which the rules require.

With the approval process of intergroups for the new legislature now entering its final phase, we wanted to repeat our survey. Our goal was to examine if intergroups had registered properly, in particular if they had provided financial data as required in the rules on intergroups. But this was easier said than done. The internal rules of the Parliament regarding intergroups state that “the Quaestors shall keep a register of the declarations of financial interests submitted by the intergroup chairs. That register shall be open to the public for inspection.” However, contrary to what would be the common sense solution, the register is still not available online. So we had to get in touch with the Secretariat of the Parliament, who hopefully could point us in the right direction. After corresponding with several secretariat staff, we finally managed to talk to the person responsible for the register.

While we were hoping that we could go and browse the paper files (as we did in 2006), it turned out there were no files available at the moment. As the last legislature was now past, the files had been sent to the archives. But according to the head of the archives, they had never received any documents of that kind. Thus, he forwarded our request to yet another register, namely the Public Register of Documents. And there we finally lost the scent, when a friendly lady at this Register told us they didn't have the files, and we should try to get in touch with the Register of Intergroups itself.

This brought us back to where we were when we started our investigations. A Kafkaesque experience that makes us wonder why it is so hard to live up to basic transparency standards? If the intergroups are requested to submit their financial interests and the public are allowed to see these files, why is this information not available?

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