European elections – time to rethink weak transparency rules?

Thursday is an important day for Europe. The elections for the European Parliament begin. The expenses scandal in the UK shows that politicians in Europe are no angels. Therefore trust, transferred by vote, should be supplemented by clear regulations and transparency rules on the European level. Although there have been some steps in the past, commitment and proper implementation are often missing. Let’s look at the issues at hand:

  1. Expert groups
    Yes, there is a database for expert groups, but is it complete? No. Is it up to date? No. Are the names of the expert group members listed? No. Are the main documents of the meetings downloadable? No.
  2. Revolving doors
    There is a code of conduct for commissioners, based on Article 213 from the EC Treaty: „Whenever Commissioners intend to engage in an occupation during the year after they have ceased to hold office, […] they shall inform the Commission in good time. The Commission shall examine the nature of the planned occupation. If it is related to the content of the portfolio of the Commissioner during his/her full term of office, the Commission shall seek the opinion of an ad hoc ethical committee. In the light of the committee’s findings it will decide whether the planned occupation is compatible with the last paragraph of Article 213(2) of the Treaty.” Is this formula detailed enough to provide clear guidance? No. Any proper regulations with a meaningful cooling-off period? No.
  3. Lobbyists’ register
    Thanks to the Estonian vice-president of the European Commission we have now a register of interest representatives. There are now more than 1,500 lobbying organizations that have signed up. Have big law firm signed up? No. Any sign of making the register mandatory? No. Any individual names become transparent? No.

These are major shortcomings that have to be addressed. People who point out these major shortcomings are often depicted as betrayors to the grand idea of a united Europe. Look what happened to Dambisa Mojo for criticizing Bono on the grand idea for helping Africa. How little was the outcry for the bail out of the European Parliament Pension Fund? Taxpayers’ money is used to compensate for losses resulting from risky share investments. This behaviour has nothing to do with the grande idea of a united Europe. It has to do with individual people and their individual acts. The idealistic view of Europe sometimes obscures criticism that might nourish a Europe-critical public. A true European democracy needs less critics of the European idea as such but more critics of the issues at hand.

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