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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