Commission Expert Groups dominated by industry

25 March 2008

ALTER-EU calls for unbalanced advisory groups to be dissolved

Brussels, 25 March 2008 - Industry lobbyists are dominating parts of the European law-making process, campaigners warned today on the back of a new report analysing the membership of a number of Commission Expert Groups. Researchers also warn that the European Commission is impeding public accountability, by failing to reveal details of who sits on the Groups.

ALTER-EU - a coalition of 160 organisations concerned with transparency within Europe - is calling on the European Commission to dissolve some of its Expert Groups because of the dominance of industry lobbyists.

The report "Secrecy and corporate dominance - a study on the composition and transparency of European Commission Expert Groups" reveals that industry representatives have a disproportionate influence on a number of the Commission's most controversial Expert Groups, including advisory groups on issues such as biotechnology, clean coal and car emissions.

Expert Groups are established by the Commission to provide advice on the development of new laws and policies, giving group members considerable power over EU legislation, the report says.

Report author Yiorgos Vassalos of Corporate Europe Observatory said: "Expert Groups are responsible for shaping policies on some of the most controversial issues being dealt with by the European Commission. Information about who has access in this crucial initial stage of decision making is not made public, but our research shows that industry representatives are playing an important role. These groups should act in the public interest, but it appears that some are being allowed to further their own commercial interests."

ALTER-EU warns that the public interest may be at risk given the dominance of industry representatives on some Expert Groups. In a study of Expert Groups advising on some of the most controversial issues, it found that industry representatives made up more than 50 per cent of the membership of one in four of the groups surveyed. More than two thirds of the groups were unbalanced and just 32 per cent of them were composed of members representing a wide range of interests.

Relevant information about the make-up and work of Expert Groups is not currently published by the Commission, with an online register only including very limited information on the sectors represented on the Groups.

Using the "access-to-documents" directive, researchers were able to obtain more details, but crucial information was still refused for commercial, security or "privacy" reasons.

The survey shows that the Commission failed to provide necessary information. In 34 per cent of all cases there was no reply at all to the information request, while in another 34 per cent the Commission only provided partial information.

Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe said: "The Commission seems unwilling to provide information about who is on its Expert Groups, and in some cases does not even appear to know whether groups exist or not. This reveals an appalling attitude to transparency and public accountability in the law-making process."

The EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso promised last year to make information available on Expert Group membership, following pressure from the European Parliament. In February this year the Parliament stepped up pressure and called for an investigation into the composition of Expert Groups following further concerns about lack of transparency.

ALTER-EU says that Expert Groups dominated by industry should be dissolved and methods must be found to prevent privileged access of Expert Groups. The public interest coalition is also demanding immediate disclosure of Expert Group membership, as promised by the Commission for this year.




The full report "Secrecy and corporate dominance - a study on the composition and transparency of European Commission Expert Groups" can be found here.

[1] 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 concerned with the increasing influence exerted by corporate lobbyists on the political agenda in Europe and the resulting loss of democracy in EU decision-making.

[2] For more details on the role of Expert Groups and the online register of groups see here.

[3] The European Parliament called for an investigation by the Commission in its "Report on transparency in financial matters" (2007/2141(INI))

[4] Summary findings from the report:

Access to Documents:
- In 34 per cent of the cases, the European Commission failed to provide any information about the Expert Groups;
- In a further 34 per cent of all cases the European Commission only provided partial information
- The Commission only provided a complete and satisfactory response in 32 per cent of the cases
- In just 36 per cent of the cases the European Commission provided information within the prescribed 15 working days.
- In only 43 per cent of the cases the European Commission provided names of organisations and individuals that were represented in Expert Groups.

Membership of the Expert Groups:
- Over 25 per cent of the Expert Groups surveyed appear to be controlled by corporate interests: more than half of all their members (including governments) are industry representatives.
- In 64 per cent of the Expert Groups studied, business interests appear to be over-represented: industry representatives make up more than 50 per cent of the non-Commission and non-government members.
- Only 32 per cent of the Expert Groups sampled appear to have a more balanced allocation of stakeholders.
- One Expert Group (4 per cent) was unbalanced in favour of NGOs.

The report was based on a survey of 44 (out of more than 1200) Expert Groups that were chosen from a number of key policy areas that are particularly important both to the EU's legislative role and the need for the wider public interest to be reflected in policy-making: environment, energy, agriculture, consumers, health, water and biotechnology.

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation in the European Union,