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TRANSPARENCY CHALLENGED: THE EU COMMISSION AT BILDERBERG
The EU Commission has a clearly stated commitment to transparency – but this commitment falls short when it comes to the annual Bilderberg policy summit.
This year’s Bilderberg conference is being held at the Grove Hotel, Watford – June 6-9. EU Commissioners will attend, along with the heads of banks, corporate CEOs, and senior politicians from Europe, the USA and Canada. But the proceedings are far from transparent. The conference happens with zero press oversight, and the Commissioners who attend do not talk about the discussions.
EU Commissioners at Bilderberg
Over the years, the EU Commission has had a strong presence at the Bilderberg conference. Commissioners who regularly attend include Joaquín Almunia, Karel de Gucht, and Neelie Kroes. Mario Monti attended while a Commissioner, as did the head of the WTO, Pascal Lamy. Peter Mandelson attended while a Commissioner – these days he attends in his capacity as a Member of the House of Lords, and Chairman of Lazard.
Two sitting presidents of the EC have attended: José Manuel Barroso (2005) and Romano Prodi (2002).
The EU: a transparent administration
“The European Union is a unique, but complex structure. Therefore, transparent decision making is particularly important for us.”
Maroš Šefčovič – Vice-President of the European Commission.
Transparency is built into the fabric of the European Union through its treaties. The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht declared that people have “the right of access to information”. Declaration 17 states:
The Conference considers that transparency of the decision-making process strengthens the democratic nature of the institutions and the public’s confidence in the administration.
In other words, for the public to have confidence in the the democratic legitimacy of the EU, it has to know that “the decision-making process” is happening out in the open. Insofar as that decision-making is not transparent, not subject to scrutiny, it directly undermines the “democratic nature” of the EU institutions.
Article 8A of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty set out how this “administration” should work in relation to the individuals living under it:
The functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy.
Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union.
Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen.
The Lisbon Treaty demands that decision making should be not merely “open”, but as open as possible: the maximum possible transparency. How the administration should – in practical terms – maintain its openness is set out in Article 8B:
The institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society.
The European Commission
The role of the EC is – according to the Lisbon Treaty – to be the watchdog of transparency. Article 8B states:
The European Commission shall carry out broad consultations with parties concerned in order to ensure that the Union’s actions are coherent and transparent.
The job of the Commission is “to make sure the EU is run in our common interest” – that’s according to a 2005 booklet, produced by the Commission, called ‘EU Commission, Serving the People of Europe’. The booklet places transparency at the heart of the Commission itself:
“Openness is one of the key priorities of the European Commission.”
The Commission, we are told, “tries to be as open and accountable as possible”. As with the EU itself – the Commission’s stated aim is the maximum possible openness.
Governing its internal workings, the European Commission has a Code of Good Administrative Behaviour. The Commission website states: “The European civil service is committed to the values of service, independence, responsibility, accountability, efficiency and transparency.” Transparency and accountability are core values of good governance in Europe.