Commission expert groups biased towards business

12 February 2009

No new advisory groups, says new report by Friends of the Earth Europe

Brussels, February 12, 2009 – Groups set up to advise the European Commission on controversial issues are unbalanced and undemocratic, warn environmental campaigners in a new report published today. [1]

The composition of most High Level Groups established by the European Commission's Directorate General (DG) Enterprise and Industry is skewed in favour of industry interests, and their recommendations and conclusions are geared towards improving the competitiveness of European business at the expense of other public interests, the research by Friends of the Earth Europe concludes.

Friends of the Earth Europe urges the Commission to stop setting up new High Level Groups, or any other advisory bodies, until fair and transparent mechanisms for their creation have been established, including clear and solid criteria that guarantee all stakeholders are consulted equally.

The author of the report, Friends of the Earth Europe's transparency campaigner Christine Pohl said: "The European Commission has a duty to protect the environment through its policies so it cannot be right that it is advised by groups dominated by commercial interests. The Commission's failure to take into account a broad range of different views is in clear contradiction with its own consultation standards."

'Whose views count? Business influence and the European Commission's High Level Groups' finds that on important and controversial policy issues such as climate change, chemicals and food, policies are formulated on the advice of bodies strongly biased in favour of commercial interests. These findings raise serious concerns over the democratic nature of decision-making within the European Commission. Of the seven High Level Groups run by DG Enterprise and Industry during the term of Commissioner Verheugen (since 22 October 2004), two were dominated by industry representatives (industry representatives made up more than 50% of all members) and four were unbalanced in favour of industry (industry made up more than 50% of the non-governmental membership). Only one was not significantly unbalanced.

The corporate dominance of the groups is reflected in the recommendations and progress reports of the groups. [2]

Paul de Clerck, Friends of the Earth Europe's corporate accountability campaigner said: "Many discussions focus on controversial technological fixes like nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage or genetically modified crops, but the advice given by the groups puts profits of large companies ahead of people and the planet. Environmental and consumer interests are often sidelined or not given proper attention. No new groups should be established until the Commission can ensure they are transparent and unbiased."

Transparency levels of the seven groups were found to be inconsistent, with the Commission's register of expert groups [3] proving to be incorrect, often outdated and not consistent with the website DG Enterprise and Industry. Only four of the High Level Groups are listed in the register, two of which are no longer active. The third still active group, the HLG on the Competitiveness of the Agro-Food industry, is not listed, even though it first met six months ago (June 2008).

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Notes:
[1] Read Friends of the Earth Europe's report 'Whose views count? Business influence and the European Commission's High Level Groups' here.

[2] The seven High Level Groups examined are:
High Level Group on Textiles and Clothing
Cars 21
Pharmaceutical Forum (High Level)
High Level Group on Competitiveness, Energy and Environment
High Level Group on Competitiveness of the European Chemicals Industry
High Level Group of Independent Stakeholders on Administrative Burdens
High Level Group on the Competitiveness of the Agro-Food Industry

The recommendations of the first four groups which have already finalised their work reflect the industry bias:
The reports on Textiles and Clothing and CARS 21 raise contentious social and environmental issues, but the recommendations follow a market-oriented approach, watering down or disregarding standards in the name of competitiveness.
In the more balanced Pharmaceutical Forum, crucial areas were controlled by profit interests and recommendations on information to patients sought to water down the current ban on the advertising of prescription medicines despite opposition from public health groups.
The recommendations on Competitiveness, Energy and the Environment were less-narrowly profit-focused, perhaps because of growing public pressure to address climate change. But many goals were watered down to the benefit of companies and there was a clear emphasis on technological fixes like nuclear energy and CCS (carbon capture and storage) without recognising the proven or potential environmental and social risks.
It remains to be seen how balanced the final outcomes of the last three, still active, groups will be. The progress reports indicate that the recommendations will again be geared primarily towards improving the competitiveness of European industry.
The work programme and first reports from the HLG on the Competitiveness of the European Chemicals Industry already makes clear that this group is not providing many opportunities to debate environmental or consumer concerns. The HLG on Administrative Burdens focuses exclusively on the reduction of administrative burdens for the benefit of companies without considering the potential negative effects and dangers of deregulation from a social, environmental and economic perspective. The work agenda for the most recent HLG on the Competitiveness of the Agro-Food Industry offers little opportunity for environmental issues to be discussed. The first progress report indicates that GMOs are taking centre stage to the benefit of industry, despite years of public opposition.

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regexpert/