The Plenary of the European Parliament yesterday voted overwhelmingly in favour of freezing part of the budget for the European Commission’s expert groups until new rules are introduced to provide safeguards against their capture by special interests and to improve transparency .
ALTER-EU has welcomed this initiative by the Parliament to put pressure on the European Commission to prevent the corporate capture of EU policy preparation.
The Parliament has asked to:
• ”Provide safeguards against capture from special interests and corporate interests.”
• ”Ban lobbyists and corporate executives sitting in expert groups in a ‘personal capacity’.”
• ”agendas, minutes and participants’ submissions should be available on-line”
Twenty per cent of the budget covering travel, accommodation and other expenses of experts coming to Brussels to advise the Commission on legislative and policy initiatives will be put in reserve until new rules are in place.
ALTER-EU researcher Yiorgos Vassalos said:
”ALTER-EU welcomes the Parliament vote, which should help resolve some serious problems that exist in EU policy-drafting. Under the current rules , industry lobbyists are allowed to dominate many groups and in this way capture new draft legislation. These privileges have to be abolished and the Commission should urgently produce new rules”.
ALTER-EU estimates  that around 100 expert groups are dominated by big corporations which as a result get to co-draft policies and regulations in policy areas where they have vested interests (finance, biotechnology, raw materials, climate, agriculture, research and more). Agendas and minutes of expert group meetings are rarely in the public domain.
Members of the European Parliament decided to use their budget powers after the Commission ignored their call to ”ensure a balanced representation of interest groups in the membership of expert groups” in 2008 , declined to involve them in the procedure for revising the rules for expert groups in 2010 and refused to fully respond to the questions they raised earlier this year .
The amendment  was tabled by the Greens on the report on the 2012 EU budget by the Italian Social-democrat MEP Francesca Balzani. It was supported by the Social-democrats, Liberals, the United Left and almost all Conservatives and Reformists, as well as EPP MEPs Monica Macovei and Zuzanna Roithova.
The European Ombudsman will conclude an inquiry into whether the functioning of expert groups adheres to principles of good governance by the end of this year.
The Commission should now propose new rules that effectively tackle the problems of unbalanced composition and lack of transparency.
 Amendment 534 on the Francesca Balzani’s report on the 2012 EU Budget was voted by 401 in favour and 272 against on Wednesday, October 26, 2011
 ALTER-EU statement on the current rules on expert groups: http://www.alter-eu.org/sites/default/files/documents/alter-eu.statement.expertgroups.pdf
 The conditions that the Parliament put for releasing the reserve are the following:
”The Commission shall modify the rules on expert groups in the following way:
1. Scrap exceptions in the obligation to have a balanced composition of expert groups (technical nature + experts in ”personal capacity”). Prohibit a single interest category (business, union or other) from having the majority of the non-government and non-EU seats in any expert group. Provide safeguards against capture from special interests and corporate interests.
2. Ban lobbyists and corporate executives sitting in expert groups in a ‘personal capacity’. The Commission should clarify whether members of an expert group are there as stakeholders or as experts committed to acting in the public interest. The second should be thoroughly checked for conflicts of interest and their ”declaration of professional activities” should be in the public domain.
3. Common selection criteria throughout all DGs, that guarantee balance among different categories of stakeholders and absence of Conflict of Interests for experts and establish an obligatory open selection process with a public call and a published mandate of each expert group which goes beyond a simple representation of Member states authorities.
4. All membership information (incl. affiliations), agendas, minutes and participants’ submissions should be available on-line unless if there is a clear and published reason for not providing this info. Reports of groups should be published before getting adopted by the Commission.”
The document that includes amendment 534 is accessible here in Document 5(bis) – Part 6 : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/activities/committees/editoDisplay.do?language=FR&id=3&body=BUDG
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, the resulting loss of democracy in EU decision-making and the postponement, weakening, or blockage even, of urgently needed progress on social, environmental and consumer-protection reforms.