The European Parliament yesterday (October 22) punched a €3.8 million hole in the 2015 budget of the European Commission until Europe’s executive rectifies its transparency record. The money will be freed once the budget committee is persuaded by the Commission’s efforts to improve transparency on so-called expert groups, which are hired by the Commission to provide ad-hoc consulting and expertise when drafting new policies. Yet, the groups are described as imbalanced by critics because they often rely on industry-types without appropriate input from non-corporate sectors, such as civil society. “Suspending these funds sends a strong signal to the commission that this cannot continue,” German Green MEP Helga Trupel commented.
Parliament’s freeze will mostly affect travel budget and expenses like food bills. The Commission however points out that the imbalance is often the consequence of a lack of people from civil society with required skills, experience, and expertise as well as of the insufficient number of applications from this sector. EU Commission spokesperson, Anthony Gravilli, insisted that “it is not correct to say that the commission is not serious about making its expert groups more transparent and balanced”.
Mr Gravilli referred to the recently-reviewed membership of many groups and noted that “transparency has been significantly enhanced” via a special list of expert groups. Pro-transparency supporters however warn that some of those sittings in the groups are in fact nothing but ”corporate lobbyists cloaked in a personal capacity label.” A “personal capacity” means that the representative is expected to be independent and acting in the public interest. It is not the first time when the Parliament has used its powers to curb the budget for the Commission. A similar scenario occurred in 2011 for the 2012 budget when MEPs froze €2 million only to be released a few months later after some of the conditions set by the European Parliament were met.