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Secrecy surrounding EU expert groups must end
Belgium Created: 19 Feb 2015
The EU’s Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has this week criticised the secrecy that still surrounds the powerful experts groups called upon to help the European Commission draft EU legislation.

In a statement issued Friday, she demanded greater transparency from the secretive European Commission expert groups and criticised the EU for not opening them up to greater public scrutiny.

She stated:

“There is room for improvement if we want to be sure that the public can trust and scrutinise the work of these important groups,”

She has also called on anyone who wants to join an expert group to be signed up to the transparency register and called into question the practise whereby organisations appear in expert groups under different names.

In a letter to EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, she wrote:

“The fact that the same organisation may be labelled differently in different expert groups is difficult to comprehend,”

Expert Groups are created on an ad hoc basis to help in the preparation of the EU’s legislative proposals and policy initiatives, the preparation of its delegated acts and the implementation of existing EU legislation, programmes and policies.

While those responsibilities may seem innocuous to someone unfamiliar with EU policy-making, the expert groups are regarded as highly influential in shaping EU legislation in its early stages. Companies spend millions of euros lobbying Brussels’ institutions and having direct access to an expert group is seen as one of the best ways of shaping legislation. Better still is the possibility that companies can, controversially, have one of their representatives appointed to the expert groups.

Such obvious conflicts of interest have not gone unnoticed. Expert groups have been a controversial aspect of EU law-making since the Commission first gained the powers to propose legislation.

In a 2014 report, Pro-transparency group Corporate Europe Observatory revealed big companies had scientists issuing opinions in expert groups on toxic chemicals they themselves manufactured. The problem was also highlighted in an expert group on tax where some of the ‘independent’ panelists were working for accountancy firms Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PwC.

While the Commission pleads, in its defence, that it tries to make the groups as balanced “as far as possible”, O’Reilly has called on the balance to be mandatory and legally binding – a position that the AECR strongly.
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Source: AECR, via email from Iris Atzmon, 18 Feb 2015

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