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Closing note on the Strategic Initiative on how the European Commission makes available information about meetings between commissioners and organisations or self-employed individuals (SI/8/2021/AMF)

The Ombudsman launched an initiative looking into how the European Commission implements its commitment to make available information about meetings between commissioners and organisations or self-employed individuals.

The Ombudsman wrote to the Commission President, urging her to remind commissioners of their obligations to publish information on meetings with organisations or self-employed individuals within two weeks of the date of the meeting.

The Commission replied to the Ombudsman informing her of its efforts to remind commissioners of the above obligations, including a recent note to the heads of the personal offices of commissioners (cabinets) circulated in January 2022.

The Ombudsman welcomes the Commission’s efforts and, since the dedicated transparency websites of the commissioners have been updated, she closes the initiative.

Background

1. In 2014, the Commission made a commitment to enhance transparency in respect of contacts with stakeholders and lobbyists[1]. As the then-President acknowledged, EU citizens have the right to know “who has been to see who, and who has spoken to whom”.

2. The Commission subsequently adopted its Decision 2014/839/EU[2], where it is foreseen that Members of the Commission “shall make public information on all meetings held by them and members of their Cabinet with organisations or self-employed individuals on issues relating to policy-making and implementation in the Union [...] on the websites of the Members of the Commission within a period of two weeks following the meeting (emphasis added)”.

Strategic Initiative

3. In November 2021, the Ombudsman noted that there were certain delays in making the above information available to the public in the dedicated transparency websites of the commissioners. In some cases, there were no meetings reported in 2021[3].  

4. The Ombudsman therefore contacted the Commission and asked it to remind commissioners and their personal offices (cabinets) whose websites were not up to date of their obligations to publish information on meetings with organisations or self-employed individuals within two weeks of the date of the meeting.

5. The Commission replied in February 2022. It said that it has taken regular and systematic action to remind commissioners and their cabinets of their obligations to publish information on their meetings with interest representatives. This included the designation in each cabinet of an ethics and transparency contact point[4] to ensure, among other things, the publication of meetings with interest representatives[5].

6. The Commission added that its Secretary General had also circulated two notes on transparency rules and policy to the heads of cabinet in January 2021 and January 2022. These notes stressed the requirement of publishing the information on meetings with interest representatives within two weeks from the meeting.

7. The Commission also offers dedicated training sessions to cabinet members covering the rules on the publication of information on meetings, as well as support and assistance to the cabinet assistants in charge of recording and publishing related information.

8. Finally, the Commission mentioned that information on meetings with interest representatives may also be published on the ‘calendar’ section of the website of the relevant commissioner, and that this practice is in compliance with the applicable rules on publication.

Conclusion

9. The Ombudsman welcomes the Commission’s efforts to remind its commissioners and their cabinets of their obligations to publish information on meetings with organisations or self-employed individuals, and the fact that the dedicated transparency websites of the commissioners seem to be, at the time of this note, up to date.

 

Emily O'Reilly
European Ombudsman


Strasbourg, 11/03/2022

 

[1] See point 10 of the Political Guidelines of 15 July 2014  https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/juncker-political-guidelines-speech_en.pdf

[2] Commission Decision 2014/839/EU on the publication of information on meetings held between Members of the Commission and organisations or self-employed individuals. Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2014.343.01.0022.01.ENG

[3] The Ombudsman noted that it is, of course, possible that some commissioners and cabinets did not have many meetings in 2021.

[4] Point V of the Working Methods of the European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/working-methods.pdf

[5]The network of the designated ethics and transparency contact points held three meetings in 2020, followed by three additional meetings in 2021.