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Summary of the Decision OI/6/2014/NF concerning the composition and transparency of European Commission expert groups

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  • Case: OI/6/2014/NF
    Opened on 12 May 2014 - Recommendation on 29 Jan 2016 - Decision on 14 Nov 2017
  • Institution(s) concerned: European Commission

The EU has the responsibility and challenge of proposing and agreeing policy and
legislation which affects over 500 million Europeans. The development of policy, including
policy that gives rise to proposals for new EU legislation, is one of the main tasks of the
European Commission. While the Commission relies heavily on its internal expertise and
experience in this work, it also relies on a wide range of external sources, such as
specialised European agencies, studies carried out for it by experts and academics,
feedback on its 'green papers', public consultations and hearings, and over 800 expert
groups.


This strategic inquiry concerned one important aspect of the European Commission’s
reliance on external sources of expertise, namely its system of expert groups. The
Commission establishes expert groups to seek external advice and expertise from
individuals, organisations and/or Member States and other public authorities as it prepares
legislative proposals and policy initiatives, drafts delegated acts, and implements existing
legislation, programmes and policies. It is for the Commission to decide how to take into
account the expertise and advice provided by its expert groups when carrying out its
duties in the general interest of the European Union.


Building on the Commission’s previous achievements in improving its management of
these groups, the Ombudsman’s inquiry aimed at assisting the Commission in identifying
and addressing the main systemic weaknesses in its general rules governing expert
groups. After carrying out a public consultation, the Ombudsman made a range of
suggestions to the Commission on how to improve the rules in the following areas:
achieving a balanced composition of expert groups, calls for applications for expert group
membership, synergies with the Transparency Register, conflict of interest policy for
individual experts appointed in a personal capacity, and improvement of data availability
on the expert groups register.


Regarding transparency of expert groups’ work, there was significant room for
improvement. The Ombudsman thus made two specific recommendations to the
Commission with a view to allowing the public to follow the detail of expert group
deliberations and to know, ultimately, whose viewpoints influenced the Commission.
In 2016, in the course of this Ombudsman inquiry and following calls from the European
Parliament and civil society, the Commission reformed its expert group system. It issued a
Commission Decision with revised rules governing the functioning and work of its expert
groups. With its reform, the Commission has significantly overhauled its expert group rules
and has put in place a more robust and transparent system. The new rules are largely in
line with the Ombudsman’s suggestions. In particular, the Commission has made the
selection procedure for expert group members more transparent, it has put in place a new
conflict of interest policy for individual experts appointed in a personal capacity, and it now
requires organisations and self-employed individuals to be registered in the Transparency
Register in order to be appointed to expert groups.


The Commission has also made good progress on facilitating better public scrutiny of the
work of expert groups. Meeting minutes are now required to be “meaningful and
complete”, members can have their dissenting opinions published, and expert groups may
decide to deliberate publicly. In the event of public deliberations, the public may be invited
to attend a meeting or the meeting may be web streamed.
The Ombudsman closes this inquiry, now that reform of the expert group system has been
achieved. She will continue to monitor the Commission’s implementation of its reforms of
the expert groups system.

Outcome of the strategic inquiry - key improvements at a glance:

Legally binding rules and increased political accountability for expert groups

Public calls for applications as a standard means of selecting members

Mandatory registration in the Transparency Register

Links between the entries in the expert groups register and the Transparency
Register

Consistent categorisation of organisations

New conflict of interest policy for individual experts appointed in their personal
capacity

Description of mandate and advice needed for each new group

Meaningful and complete minutes of meetings

Publication of dissenting opinions

Arrangements for public deliberations

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