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Commission promises transparency for all groups influencing EU policy
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The European Commission has agreed to publish documents on the work of a high-level group that shaped the EU's military research programme and has said that any future such groups should be subject to the same transparency rules as other Commission-appointed expert bodies.

In September 2018, following a July 2017 complaint from the European Network Against Arms Trade (ENAAT), the European Ombudsman concluded that the 'Group of Personalities on the Preparatory Action on Common Security and Defence Policy-related research' (GoP), which played a key role in the establishment of the EU's new multi-billion euro military research programme (EurActiv, link), should retrospectively be made subject to "an appropriate level of transparency."

The Commission has now agreed to "publish meeting agendas, minutes, as well as participants’ submissions related to the work of the GoP," unless such publication would undermine any of the protected interests set out in the EU's rules on access to documents.

Those interests include "defence and military affairs" and "the institution's decision-making process", both of which are highlighted in the Commission's letter to the Ombudsman.

The Commission has also agreed that "any new version of the Group of Personalities" and "other sui generis consultative bodies providing the Commission with advice in relation to the development of EU policy" should be subject to the same or "broadly equivalent" transparency rules as formal expert groups and other similar entities.

Laëtitia Sédou of ENAAT (link) said:

"Although 'too little too late' now that the funding is agreed and under way, this could still help shedding light on how the military-industrial complex is influencing EU policies and hopefully improve transparency on similar groups in the future."

The Ombudsman's investigation was launched following a complaint by ENAAT which argued that the Commission should have formally registered the GoP as an "expert group".

This would have meant its inclusion in a public register and compliance with rules on transparency regarding the group's meetings - for example, with the publication of agendas and minutes.

It took the Commission five months to respond to the Ombudsman's decision, which when it was reached in September 2018 was already too late to make any substantive difference to the policy-making process.

The establishment of the EU's military research programme essentially mirrored the process which, some 15 years ago, led to the establishment of the security research programme - convening a high-level 'Group of Personalities', which a significant number of industry representatives, to set the direction of future policy.

Laëtitia Sédou added:

"Groups of Personalities were used by the Commission as a way to circumvent its obligations regarding transparency of experts and advisory groups that influence EU policy-making and implementation. Let's hope that this very welcome decision from the Ombudsman will put a stop to such practice in the future."

Further reading

Summary of the decision in case 811/2017/EA on the transparency of “advisory bodies” that influence the development of EU policy (European Ombudsman, link)

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