Nessa Childers, MEP for Dublin, presented her opinion on transparency, integrity and accountability in the EU institutions to the Environment and Public Health Committee in the European Parliament, today.
Ms. Childers is in charge of steering the draft of a parliamentary report on the state of EU transparency and accountability in the areas of public health and the environment, with a focus on safeguarding the public interest against regulatory capture.
The Dublin MEP is pushing for stricter rules to prevent conflicts of interest in expert advisory boards that support the Commission’s legislative and policy work as well as scientific panels in specialised agencies, such as the European Food Safety Authority or the European Medicines Agency.
The dealings between public authorities and the tobacco industry are another issue of continued concern for Ms. Childers, who wants all EU institutions, including the European Parliament, to abide by the best international standards, so as to shield public health policy from the commercial interests of the tobacco lobby.
Speaking after this morning’s presentation to the committee in Brussels, Ms. Childers said:
“Expert groups have been plagued with the systematic overrepresentation of industries and corporate lobbyists in the guise of experts acting in a personal capacity.
“We must address these structural flaws so as to allow them to support the Commission’s regulatory work in the public interest and shield it from capture by corporate sectors.
“The Commission needs to apply adequate criteria to differentiate between economic and non-economic actors and then ensure that there is balance in the advice received across its different departments.
“In my view, this requires a legally-binding framework, as recommended by the Ombudsman, so that all Commission services share a common benchmark that can be effectively applied, as opposed to the current “adhocery”, which has prompted Parliament to freeze the Expert Group budget twice in the space of two years.
“I believe that we can learn from the experience of the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, where the status of ‘invited specialists’ was established so as to consult outside sources of expertise without compromising the work of expert groups when there is a risk of conflicts of interest.
“This is an interesting response to those who fear or claim that the Commission or specialised EU agencies would be deprived of expert knowledge in narrow, niche fields on which a very small number of specialists work.
“I am also very much concerned with the undue influence of the tobacco industry on policymaking at EU level. There have been many instances that cast a serious doubt on the Commission’s willingness to properly abide by the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
“From the Dalligate scandal, through the anticounterfeiting and smuggling agreement renegotiations, to the recent refusal from the Commission to disclose any details of its discussions with the tobacco industry on international trade, it is abundantly clear that contacts with this sector are not being conducted in line with international rules we are a party to.”
NOTE TO EDITORS:
The draft of Ms. Childers’ opinion to the Committee can be accessed through the link below: