Friday, 4 December 2009

Will Barroso-II have a transparency Commissioner?

Media reactions to Commission President Barroso’s decisions on the division of portfolios over the 26 candidate Commissioners have concentrated on who got key portfolios, like Michel Barnier getting the internal market job, which includes the politically hot financial services dossier. What seems to have gone unnoticed so far, is the lack of clarity over who will take over political responsibility for the next phase of the European Transparency Initiative.

Commissioner Kallas, who launched the ETI in 2005, is moving to transport and his portfolio will be split over at least three of the incoming Commissioners. Over the last term, Commissioner Kallas made good progress in securing transparency around EU agriculture funds and beneficiaries of EU grants and contracts to external consultants. Less impressive, but certainly not unimportant, was the progress he made in promoting lobby disclosure as well as preventing conflicts of interests, for instance around the Commissioners' Special Advisers. The European Transparency Initiative, despite the shortcomings in its implementation, is perhaps the European Commission’s first-ever ambitious initiative to address the lack of transparency and ethics rules around EU lobbying. It is worrying that Barroso has left it unclear whether the ETI will be continued during the next five years and which Commissioner will be in charge.

In a letter sent to Barroso November 23rd, and posted on Kallas’ website, the Estonian Commissioner “hands his lobby regulation mandate back to President Barroso”. Kallas recommends Barroso to assign “clear political responsibility for driving this issue forward in the next Commission”. However, when Barroso later that week announced the division of portfolios, such clarity was entirely missing. It seems Barroso has divided Kallas’ portfolio over three incoming Commissioners:
  • Maroš Šefčovič: Vice-President of the Commission for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration
  • Algirdas Šemeta: Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud
  • Janusz Lewandowski: Budget and Financial Programming
There’s also the scenario that Barroso would take charge of the ETI follow-up himself. President Barroso should urgently provide clarity over who will get political responsibility to drive this issue further. Whatever the constellation, Barroso needs to address this very important issue with the necessary vigor and determination. During the approval hearings of the incoming Commissioners in Parliament in mid-January, MEPs are more than likely to ask questions about the new Commission's approach to lobbying transparency and ethics. The ETI was an important starting point, but there are still plenty of improvements to be made, for example on the lobby register.

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