Participation, ethics and transparency: What citizens want from Brussels
Brussels, 17 November 2012 – The European Union is ever more important in influencing the laws and policies that affect more than 500 million europeans. Yet very few know about our european representatives and the influence of interest groups upon them. Therefore, various organisations around Europe, including Access Info Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe, Spinwatch, Environmental Law Service, HAI Europe and Aitec have decided to make citizens aware about the topic through various national campaigns in favour of lobbying regulation through the EU Citizens Project. The last meeting aimed to bring together 48 citizens from more than 6 European countries, engaged about transparency, to the Belgian capital to learn more about the structure of European institutions.
*A member of the Spanish public speaking in this video which captures the voices of European Citizens facing up to the current financial crisis
The main event of this trip was the conference “Participation, Ethics and Transparency: What citizens want from Brussels” that took place on the 16th November in the Residence Palace. Guests included Rainer Wieland (Vice-President of the European Parliament, responsible for transparency), representatives of the European Ombudsman’s Office as well as other European civil servants.
During the event, there were two contrary positions relating to transparency: Isabelle Durant, also European Parliament Vice-President and responsible for Code of Conduct agreed that a MEP is obliged to declare all their spending and make their agenda public, versus the position of Wieland who believed that declaring all spending would inhibit administrative work and that it is not necessary for the agenda of politicians to be made public. Members of the organising NGOs reminded him that European parliamentarians work with public money and must be accountable to who they represent. In his opinion, it is not ethically questionable for a MEP to have a second job, meaning that they could combine both their duties in the European Parliament as well as their business duties. Some NGOs totally opposed this because Parliamentary work is a full-time job, the salary of a parliamentarian is more than enough and that combining public office with private work increases the risk of creating conflict of interests.
In the second panel, centred more around lobbying controls, European Commission officials confirmed unanimously that they felt satisfied with the lobbying register that was introduced a year ago by the EU. Once again, the NGOs from EU Citizens condemned the register because it is voluntary and therefore hardly effective. Whatever meeting between parliamentarians and lobbyists must feature in the register for public viewing in a detailed manner in order to control the relations between European officials with lobbyists and avoid problems such as conflicts of interest, unfair influence and corruption.