State Of (In)Transparency In The EU Featured

In his annual State of the Union – SOTEU speech, the President of the European Commission Barroso delivered the current state of affairs in the European Union, outlining both the major achievements done in the one-year period since the last SOTEU speech, as well as the major challenges that are still waiting to be overcome. Barosso related the feeling of being confident for the first ones, and the feeling of being vigilant for the second, while saying that everything that has been achieved attributes to a joint effort of all the institutions in the EU mechanism.

I will not go in to the details at this point on, for example, why investments in health and prevention work especially have not found sufficient space in this speech; or discussing upon how do we want to see growth in the EU if we do not take care of the mechanisms that can bring it – and I am not talking about production or companies or industry, but about the biggest small entities that comprise them – the people. For me one special part of the speech resonated after and goes like this: “If you don’t like Europe as it is: improve it! Find ways to make it stronger … “.

At that point I thought that that is exactly what we are doing: we perceive a challenge, a shortcoming, a policy to be improved. And we take it to the decision makers and stakeholders, we establish dialogue. But then, this is where our overview stops and we leave it all to the decision making process, happening behind closed doors. But are they always closed? Or are they a little bit open, just enough for the tobacco smoke or the “cling” of the cheering glasses of alcoholic beverages – to go in?


European Ombudsman Seminar in the European Parliament “EU Transparency: Where are we now?”

At the end of last week, on September 28th , we had the International Right to Know Day – and on this occasion the European Ombudsman organized a seminar called “EU Transparency : Where are we now?”. The seminar was interesting to follow (via streaming, Twitter and Google Hangout) and had an even more interesting line up of speakers, starting with an address by the outgoing European Ombudsman, Diamandouros ; following with a panel of representatives from civil society, who work daily on monitoring the EU processes and their transparency; and concluding with an address by Maros Sefcovic, Vice President of the European Commission and Rainer Wieland, Vice Presidents of the European Parliament.

In the spirit of the Right to Know Day, I would like to ask: Did you know that on EU level there is an established tool called Transparency Register that was created to provide transparency in the lobbying work done in the EU?

The signing up in the tool is voluntary and the panelists who addressed this question also said that the number of records has been on rise in the past years. However, an interesting aspect is that although the total number of records is rising, certain key lobby groups still fail to register. And will probably not do it, revealing their spheres of interest and action with it, as long as the obligation to register is voluntary. Although there were signs of support by the Commission for making it obligatory, at the end the argumentation was that there was no legal basis for such a demand. 2013 is a new year and a year of revision of the register, so changes might be expected.


EU policy processes are heavily tilted towards corporations, excluding civil society


#BigAlcohol doesn't belong into public health policy making processes #ConflictOfInterest

The open question still stays if unregistered corporate lobbyists should be allowed to take part in advisory groups created by the Commission? Should they attend meetings? I would very openly reply – No.

A strong call was made at the seminar too, for increasing the number of civil society representatives in the Commission expert groups, which are very often corporately dominated. From the practical side, a call was made that information on Calls for openings in the groups, timing of meetings and meeting protocol should also be shared.

Ultimately, the seminar revealed some of the corporate tactics.

Did you know that there are more than 100 tobacco industry lobbyists who are active in the Parliament? One lobbying company has spent 1 million euro on lobbying for the tobacco industry, with the purpose of weakening the support of the Tobacco Products Directive. Unfortunately, the Big Tobacco is not the only one. Big Alcohol has its own stake in the lobbying for measures that lack evidence in order to keep the industry in business.

“EU Transparency: Where are we now?”

My “did you know” question number three: Did you know that it has also been reported that MEPs have been offered tobacco products as a stimulation to demonstrate their will against the proposed regulations? With regard to this, the Ombudsman, and later on EU Commission Vice President Sefcovic have called towards changes in the expert groups and full registration of lobbyists in the Transparency register. With the slightly inappropriate statements of European Parliament Vice President Weiner that he has “not been offered tobacco yet, but if so, I would probably accept it” or that monitoring the work of the MEPs on a daily basis is unnecessary, as greater transparency will mean lower transparency at the same time; we can only assume that the proposed call for changes will happen… in the next structures after European elections in 2014.

The reply of Chair of the panel on the first statement was “Is it an invitation?”. Well, is it ? Is it appropriate to come out with statements such as this one ? On the seminar’s occasion when transparency is discussed it can be a clear sign that there is a need to re-address the issues of ethics as well. But let’s not leave that for the next structures.

“Not everything needs a solution at European level. Europe must focus on where it can add most value. Where this is not the case, it should not meddle. The EU needs to be big on big things and smaller on smaller things – something we may occasionally have neglected in the past. The EU needs to show it has the capacity to set both positive and negative priorities” – was one of the concluding comments of Barosso’s SOTEU speech, which I will also use as a concluding point.

At the moment, we are in need of a policy-solution that will reduce alcohol-related harm. With Europe being the highest alcohol consuming region in the world, and with the EU spending of €156 billion annually on covering the costs of alcohol harm, this is not the moment for the EU to be small, as the issue is not small at all. It is €156 billion heavy and burdens the lives and dreams of 9 million children of alcoholics.

And we will take the “improve it if you don’t like it “ approach mentioned at the begining, but this also calls for fair conditions to make it happen – more transparency, more ethical approach, and real practice of honesty and values among the MEPs and European Commission bodies.

Because transparency is credibility. And in 8 months time, the voters will decide how high or low they both are in the EU.

Vasilka Lalevska
Political Officer
Active - Sobriety, Friendship and Peace


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