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Summary of decision in case 1100/2015/NF concerning the European Commission’s Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction

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  • Case: 1100/2015/NF
    Opened on 19 Aug 2015 - Decision on 16 Mar 2017
  • Institution(s) concerned: European Commission

The case concerned a “Network”, set up in 2014 by the European Commission to study “unconventional hydrocarbon extraction” including “fracking”.

Two NGOs, one of which was initially a member of the Network, complained to the Ombudsman as they considered that the Network should be treated as a Commission “expert group”, and should therefore have to comply with specific, strict “expert group” rules on having a balanced membership, a high level of transparency and independence. The NGOs claimed that a disproportionate number of the Network’s members had links to the hydrocarbon extraction industry.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue.

She examined the work that was actually carried out by the Network. She found that the Network gathered information for the Commission. However, unlike an “expert group”, the Network did not provide the Commission with assessments or policy advice. The Ombudsman thus found that it was not necessary to structure the Network as an “expert group”. She also noted that the Commission had in the meantime decided to disband the Network’s working groups and to carry out further research using its own in-house research services.

The Ombudsman found no maladministration arising from how the Network had actually worked. She suggested however that, in the event that the Commission were to reactivate the Network, and were to use the Network to obtain policy advice on issues such as fracking, it would be preferable to restructure the Network as an “expert group”, so as to ensure a balanced membership, and that that it will be transparent and independent.