Transparency lacking about Commissioner calendars

1 May 2011

Between October and December 2010 Friends of the Earth Europe filed access to documents requests to ten European Commissioners requesting copies of their calendars and appointments dating back to the beginning of their mandates, early in 2010.

The responses to the requests varied enormously. The Commissioners who answered provided differing style, scope and punctuality of information, whilst other Commissioners refused to handle the requests or left them unanswered. Several Commissioners who refused to answer the requests suggested the information was already available online – on their websites or on the Europa RAPID Portal (RAPID). But on investigation the information online was found to be incomplete, not easily accessible, or not in an easy-to-understand format.

Natacha Cingotti, transparency campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, commented: "Transparency and openness are enshrined as founding principles of the European Union. The right to request access to documents is an essential tool which enables citizens to participate in EU policy-making and ensures balanced access to EU institutions. Yet information on the engagements of Europe's Commissioners with external stakeholders is simply not available."

Of the ten access to document requests:

  • Only three were responded to with the requested information (Commissioners De Gucht, Šefčovič, Tajani). One of these was only received following a second, confirmatory application.
  • Of these three answers, the content varied from full lists of meetings (including dates, names, types of stakeholders, and context) to an incomplete list containing little information, without dates and contexts of the meetings.
  • In four cases (President Barroso, Commissioners Kallas, Oettinger, and Piebalgs), Friends of the Earth ’s request was not granted on the grounds that it did not qualify as an application for access to documents under Regulation 1049/2011, and that no document containing the required information existed. In all four cases, Friends of the Earth was redirected to the Commissioners’ individual websites and/or the RAPID portal.
  • In three cases (Commissioners Barnier, Potocnik, and Hedegaard), Friends of the Earth did not receive the requested information, nor any explanation why. Acknowledgements of receipt of the requests were sent from DGs Climate Action and Internal Market. DG Climate Action requested an extension, but failed to follow this with any further response. 

The Rapid portal mainly primarily covers official visits, events and speeches by European Commissioners. Additionally, most Commissioners’ websites have no archive function, meaning that only the current week of meetings is available, and some provide no calendar details at all.

Natacha Cingotti said: “There is no reason why lists of meetings between European Commissioners and external stakeholders should not be made available. As the top executive body of the EU, the Commission has a duty of accountability and transparency towards citizens. The lack of consistency in Commissioners’ handling of requests, and in the information available online, raises serious questions about transparency and privileged lobbying access at the European Commission.” 

Friends of the Earth Europe calls on the European Commission to:

  • Proactively make information about meetings between European Commissioners and external stakeholders available to the public.
  • Ensure consistency when dealing with access to documents requests - openness should prevail over secrecy and should be the guiding principle for the Commission’s staff when dealing with requests.
  • Ensure European Commissioners only meet with, or accept invitations from, organisations signed up to the Transparency Register.
  • Ensure Commissioners meet with a representative group of stakeholders and avoid privileged access for industry representatives.