Ombudsman: Citizens need to know more about expert groups' advice to Commission
Press release no. 1/2016 - Date Tuesday | 02 February 2016
Case OI/6/2014/NF - Opened on Monday | 12 May 2014 - Recommendation on Friday | 29 January 2016 - Decision on Tuesday | 14 November 2017 - Institution concerned European Commission (Recommendation agreed by the institution)
The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, welcomed the progress made so far during her inquiry but has asked the European Commission further to improve the transparency of its 800 plus expert groups by publishing comprehensive minutes of their meetings.
The Ombudsman's strategic inquiry concluded that the Commission should publish meeting agendas and background documents in advance, while minutes should normally include the positions expressed by group members and be published in a timely manner. This will enable citizens to see more clearly how expert advice feeds into EU policy-making. An expert group's deliberations may be kept confidential but only if objectively justified.
Emily O'Reilly stated: "The European Commission is right to consult widely when it draws up proposals for policy and legislation, seeking the best possible expertise. Much progress has been made since we started our inquiry; however citizens have a right to know fully how expert advice feeds into EU decision-making. This entails knowing what input has been given and by whom, whether by national representatives, industry, civil society or others. Making this kind of information public will help ensure expert groups are viewed as legitimate."
While the Commission has announced many important and welcome steps to improve the management of its expert groups during the course of this inquiry - such as making the selection procedure for expert group members more transparent and overhauling its conflict of interest policy - the Ombudsman has several suggestions to further build on this progress.
They include that the Commission draw up a definition of balance when it comes to expert group composition. This will ensure a rigorous internal approach to composing the groups as well as allow the public to see the reasoning behind the selection of a group's members. She also suggests that individual experts make annual declarations of interests and that documents on expert groups' - and their subgroups' - work be published systematically and in a timely manner.
The Ombudsman has asked the Commission to explain by 30 April 2016 how it intends to address her recommendations.
The Ombudsman opened a strategic inquiry into the composition of expert groups in May 2014. She drew on the results of a subsequent public consultation to make a series of initial proposals to the Commission. The recommendations published today seek to address the remaining transparency concerns when it comes to public scrutiny of expert groups.
There are over 800 expert groups advising the European Commission. These groups can consist of individuals, organisations, Member State and other public authorities. The Commission may decide to use the experts' input when preparing legislative proposals or policy initiatives, as well as in relation to the implementation of legislation, programmes and policies or the preparation of delegated acts. The full recommendation can be found here.
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