Three agencies do not make the cut over conflict of interest claims
By Gaspard Sebag | Wednesday 28 March 2012
Three agencies – the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – did not make the cut in the 2010 discharge procedure. On grounds of alleged conflicts of interest, the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT), upon recommendation from rapporteur Monica Macovei (EPP, Romania), decided, on 27 March, to postpone clearing their accounts for that year. If this is confirmed by plenary in May then deputies will come back to the issue to assess progress in autumn.
Beyond these three agencies in the eye of the storm, Macovei questions all agencies’ utility and added value in the context of austerity measures across the Union. She highlights that the number and budget of the EU agencies has increased from three in 2000 to 24 in 2010 and now 27 agencies are in operation. This cost the EU €620 million in 2010. “If we ask member states to reduce their expenses, it would be good for the EU to do the same,” said Macovei, adding that a report should be drafted to see whether there are too many agencies. The seven joint undertakings also scrutinised by the Romanian deputy are public-private partnerships to which the EU contributed over €500 million in 2010.
The European Food Safety Authority, based in Parma, Italy, has been the target of much criticism. MEPs are highly concerned by the reported direct links between the chair of the EFSA Management Board and the food industry and also by her participation in the work of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) Europe as a member of the Board of Directors. Furthermore, deputies find it unacceptable that meetings of the 15-strong Management Board cost on average €92.630 (€6.175 per member), which is nearly three times higher than that of the second most expensive Management Board of a decentralised agency. These excessive costs should be reduced drastically, parliamentarians say.
MEPs are worried about a payment of €33,791 made to environmental NGO Earthwatch while the European Environment Agency’s executive director was a member of the board of that same NGO. The payment was made after the executive director and 28 other staff members of the EEA went for up to ten days of research in different biodiversity projects in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean managed by Earthwatch. So that the public can be aware of potential conflicts of interest, Macovei recommends that the agencies publish the curriculum vitae of their board members and experts on their websites.
Before granting discharge, deputies asked the European Medicines Agency for an action plan to improve procurement and contract management and sought assurances as to the impartiality of the EMA’s employees and of national experts temporarily seconded to it. The refusal by the agency’s Management Board to establish a new payment system was also criticised. The EMA's discharge was also postponed last year.