Home World News the European Commission and the Member States play the card of non-transparency

the European Commission and the Member States play the card of non-transparency

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How will the money be spent? How does the European Commission assess Member States’ plans? Will this money really contribute to achieving the promised goals of building more resilient, modern and climate-friendly European economies? So many questions concerning the NextGenerationEU European recovery plan valued at 723.8 billion euros (338 billion in subsidies, including 40 billion for France), on which a panel of European journalists has decided to investigate. Codename: RecoveryFiles.

Brought together by the Dutch information platform Follow the Money, these 17 journalists from all over Europe have been trying for several months to access documents relating to the recovery plan… with very mixed success, as shown in an article in Le Monde. . While the Commission boasts on paper of the need to guarantee transparency on this file, it refuses to disclose hundreds of documents with arguments deemed “absurd” by experts contacted. To find out more about this investigation and this behavior of the Commission, we contacted Peter Teffer, a Dutch investigative journalist and member of the journalists’ collective.

Marianne:Why did this collective decide to work on this subject? Isn’t the process regarding the movement of stimulus money to states clear and transparent?

Peter Teffer: Journalists and citizens must be able to control how public money will be distributed and spent. To have access to the money from the recovery plan, each State must present a plan which aims to make its economy more robust, in particular for the fight against global warming. The state must therefore explain how it will use its share of the money to achieve this objective as well as the reforms it plans to deploy. The Commission then assesses these proposals and sets up a follow-up. But how are these plans evaluated? How will the Commission monitor the use of these funds and what will be the results of this monitoring? It is to these questions that we would like to have answers. Monitor the overseer in a way. In total, our team submitted requests for access to plan evaluation documents from fifteen Member States. In all cases, the Commission has opposed the disclosure of at least part or all of the documents, or has not yet responded.

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Does the Commission have the right to refuse you access to these documents?

The EU regulation on access to documents is quite clear on this. In principle, all citizens can have access to documents emanating from the European institutions. Except in certain cases: for reasons of security, competition or if their disclosure “harms the decision-making process” of an institution. This last argument is often presented to us. So in some cases, like on the Hungarian or Polish plan, it may make sense, because their plans have still not been validated. But the Commission also uses this argument for approved plans. So it’s not okay. Moreover, the institutions can refuse access to documents only if they can prove that the reasons for this refusal outweigh the public interest represented by a publication. But in the case of the refusals which were opposed to us, the Commission does not mention having carried out such an evaluation. However, after a refusal of access to the documents evaluating the German plan, the ombudsman of the European Union, Ms O’Reilly, had qualified these documents “significant public interest”.

To tell the truth, the Commission has a whole catalog of arguments: such as the financial risk or the diplomatic risk under the pretext of maintaining good relations with the Member States… so many justifications which, according to the experts, are without foundation real.

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Do Member States have a responsibility in this story?

Yes, because in several files, they are the ones who ask the Commission not to disclose the documents. Except that they have no right of veto in the matter, it is the Commission which decides.

On the French side, do you have more information?

In France, the Ministry of the Economy published the details of the French plan very early on and regularly updates numerous monitoring indicators on its application. Except that here again, the requests for access to the Commission’s evaluation documents made by the journalist of Le Monde, Marie Charrel, remain unanswered.

Do you think you might find compromising information in these documents?

As journalists we do not speculate and are interested in facts. But this deadlock is very bad for European democracy and citizens’ confidence in its institutions. Especially since the Commission had undertaken to guarantee transparency on the recovery plan which, as Ursula Von Der Leyen said, is a “prerequisite for its success. » We will continue our investigation, you can be sure of that.

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