Commission to NGOs: "big business rules OK"
Commission to NGOs: "big business rules OK"
Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation - ALTER-EU
Press Release, 16 December 2008
Brussels, - Campaigners today challenged the democratic legitimacy of the European Commission’s Expert Groups after the Commission said it was perfectly acceptable that some of them were dominated by big business .
The civil society coalition ALTER-EU has today written  to the European Commission to question its position, which campaigners say allows business to exert control over significant areas of policy and decision making.
The Commission defended the fact that big business representatives dominate a number of Expert Groups in a letter to ALTER-EU, claiming that the quality of their expertise justifies their presence. But ALTER-EU believes this cannot justify that the Commission is giving a privileged position to business advice over other non-interested experts (as European universities and civil society) by allowing business to dominate some Expert Groups in a position to advice the Commission on new EU-legislation.
ALTER-EU campaigner Yiorgos Vassalos said:
"Even the Commission's own guidelines are being violated as Expert Groups including the one on biotechnology and on coal are completely controlled by industry."
ALTER-EU has again asked the Commission to clarify how such Expert Groups meet the Commission’s own codes of conduct on consultation and use of expertise, which state that "a diversity of viewpoints" should be taken into account . The Commission has so far refused to answer this point.
These codes say that "all relevant interests in society should have an opportunity to express their views" and that the risk "of vested interests distorting the advice" in Expert Groups should be "minimised" and "a diversity of viewpoints" resulting "from differences in scientific approach, different types of expertise, different institutional affiliations" should be collected.
In its letter, the Commission accepts that Expert Groups are the most widely used way of getting external advice. Although they are funded by the taxpayer and although they are an important source advice on public policies, the Expert Groups have been operating in obscurity for decades
ALTER-EU is calling for their decision making to be made accountable and transparent, and has asked the Commission to make the names of their advisors public. At the last count the Commission had not disclosed any names or organisations of the advisors in half of the expert groups while basic information was missing for two thirds of them .
Details of names were promised by the end of this year, and if this deadline is to be met, there is very little time. Now the Commission is adding a further restriction to the dismay of ALTER-EU.
Yiorgos Vassalos added:
"The Commission has said it will publish details of who sits on Expert Groups, but this will not include the details of anyone who seeks anonymity. This is not acceptable. Some Expert Groups have a huge influence on highly controversial areas of policy, yet their members are not even known to the public, let alone held accountable."
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) is a coalition of over 160 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms calling for: EU lobbying disclosure legislation; improved code of conduct for European Commission Officials; the European EU Commission to terminate cases of privileged access and undue influence granted to corporate lobbyists. The call for “Ending corporate privileges and secrecy around lobbying in the European Union”, the founding statement of the Alliance for Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) and a list of signatories are available on www.alter-eu.org
ALTER-EU is registered in the European Commission’s Register of Interest Representatives: https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/transparency/regrin/consultation/displaylobbyist.do ?id=2694372574-63
 http://www.alter-eu.org/en/publications/open-letter-expert-groups-transparency-d ec-2008
 Minimum standards for Consultation:
Guidelines for Use of Expertise:
 The register was checked between November 28 and December 3. 1022 groups were on it when checking started and 1020 when it finished. No names of persons or organisations were given for 506 groups. No names of persons for 186 groups and no names of organisations for 13 groups.