Thoughts on civil society involvement, scandals, and the next EU elections

Earlier this year we presented our analysis on transparency in the financing of Europarties to the European Parliament – see the blog post and the discussion paper thereon.

When we presented this expertise in Parliament, several deputies reacted offended by the link we drew between political finance and corruption, as if such could not happen in EU politics. The current European Parliament scandal shows that this is not just a possibility, it is a reality.

The analysis was balanced, acknowledging improvements  in transparency but also mentioning that the publication of the financial data of Europarties could be improved. We also recommended special reporting requirements on EU election campaign financing and spending.

The risk of having EU money misused during the next European elections or the risk that fraud will prevent proper electoral competition is too high not to ensure maximum transparency in this regard.

Last week, the final version of Parliament’s report on the future of Europarties has been published and the only concrete proposal for improvement that I can see in there is that donations should be reported immediately. Beyond a very general reference to “maximum transparency“, the only direct reference to TI’s recommendations can be found in the background explanations. And there, only our positive remarks are connected to the name of our organisation.

Now Parliament is free to take civil society recommendations on board as it wants and we are glad to be referenced. But this proves two things:

  1. Criticism on political finance is only taken serious after scandals (the report was drawn up before), and
  2. providing analysis that is balanced means that politicians tend to prefer to take account of your positive remarks.

The call for further visible improvements then rests on us in civil society to fight for. In this case it will be to ensure that we’ll hopefully not have a scandal during or after the next European Parliament election.

This case also shows that it would be good to have a legislative footprint to reports drawn up by the European Parliament. In such a footprint, external input used to write reports or to formulate concrete parts of the text would be clearly referenced.

This would not only have lead to our original analysis (linked above) so that others could have seen in what context we have made our positive remarks, but such a footprint would have also revealed which other interest groups have or have not contributed directly or indirectly in the drafting of the report.

Now this was “just” an own-initiative report and not yet part of a legislative procedure. However, it may soon become the basis for legislation or discussions thereon. And not just in the light of the current scandal, all law-making, or preparations thereto, at the EU level should be made as transparent as possible, including through legislative footprints.

Only then the risk for for having reports and amendments tabled that are de facto pre-written by third parties could be discovered. But not only that: Parliament could also show if and where it takes civil society involvement seriously, referencing its expertise and advice whenever used, thereby making the case for an open, inclusive and transparent European democracy.

Ronny Patz, Transparency International Liaison Office to the EU

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