“We have nothing to hide.” Those five words underpinned Jean-Claude Juncker’s pledge for greater transparency as president of the European Commission.
A little more than a year after Juncker’s reforms, the public may ask why so many commissioners aren’t repeating the mantra.
Juncker’s pledge required commissioners, their cabinets and the directors general to disclose their meetings with lobbyists. They were also only allowed to engage with lobbyists inscribed on the EU’s Joint Transparency Register.
Flash forward to the present day: Some commissioners, who earn around €20,833 per month according to 2014 data, had a handful of meetings listed on their websites for last year. Others had months-long gaps unaccounted for.
“Some [commissioners] have been a bit more sloppy and it takes more time [to update than it should],” said Daniel Freund, EU policy officer for Transparency International.
POLITICO previously called out commissioners like Günther Oettinger for dumping months’ worth of meetings on their public sites after facing criticism. The latest look shows commissioners’ agendas — their diaries of upcoming meetings — were similarly sparse.
While Juncker listed six items coming up on his agenda, 10 of the 28 commissioners had none for the upcoming year, as of last Wednesday. Others had only one or two appointments.
The day after POLITICO called about their agendas, however, three commissioners made significant updates. Two previously had no scheduled items.
“There is no specific [transparency] requirement about what is published in the agenda part of these websites,” said Commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt.
Commissioners are expected to update their online schedules within two weeks of a meeting. Some commissioners and their cabinets follow the rules closely, such as Jonathan Hill, the financial stability, financial services and capital markets union commissioner, and Jyrki Katainen, the vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness.
Others have very little to show.
The commissioners with the fewest meetings include Vice President Kristalina Georgieva, who handles human resources and the budget, and Vice President Federica Mogherini, who is also high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
However, Mogherini’s meetings as the high representative are not covered by the transparency regime.
Commission vice presidents earn around €23,147 per month, according to a 2014 disclosure.
Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Creţu and European Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn had the most open schedules.
In Creţu’s case, her public list of meetings hasn’t changed since May, with only two meetings in 2015. A third meeting with Google was crossed out, canceled by the company, her office said. Creţu’s last meeting with an external organization was with the European Alliance to Save Energy on March 17.
“EU cohesion and regional policy involves cooperation with mainly public stakeholders,” said Jakub Adamowicz, a spokesman for Creţu’s department.
Hahn also listed only two meetings last year. Like Creţu, his last meeting, with the Foundation for an Open Society DOTS, was in March.
Both of their cabinets, however, kept very up-to-date meeting notes, showcasing their rendezvous held as recently as this month. Hahn’s cabinet ministers had a pretty sizable gap in meetings between July and October, but Creţu’s policy assistant, Mathieu Fichter, added his scheduled meeting with Wintershall Holding on February 10, the day before the event.
Just a couple of clicks
Months-long gaps weren’t uncommon among other commissioners. Dimitris Avramopoulos, who looks after migration, home affairs and citizenship, didn’t declare a single meeting between March 3 and November 17, according to his agenda.
Some commissioners were thorough with updating when their meetings occurred, but were more cryptic as to the actual content. When Katainen listed a meeting with Goldman Sachs in Davos last month, they talked about the “global business outlook.”
Agendas, which are meant to show commissioners’ upcoming meetings, fall under the same umbrella as meetings with public stakeholders. There’s no official commitment to update them quickly, they’re “more a nice service for the public,” Freund said.
Juncker, who earned about €25,555 per month in 2014, demonstrated a number of upcoming meetings in his agenda.
Others were not as thorough. Of the vice presidents, Mogherini and Frans Timmermans only had one item listed on their upcoming agenda as of Wednesday. Georgieva and Katainen had none.
Carlos Moedas, commissioner for research, science and innovation, who runs programs like Horizon 2020 and the SME Instrument, also had a blank calendar for this year.
“This is a service primarily aimed at informing the press, and is not meant to provide a full agenda of every meeting a commissioner holds,” said Commission spokeswoman Breidthardt.
On Thursday, many of the commissioners and vice presidents, including Mogherini, Georgieva and Katainen, updated their agendas after POLITICO contacted Commission spokespeople.
Georgieva “meets on a daily basis with numerous internal and inter-institutional stakeholders, officials from these services, Commission employees, members of the European Parliament, the Court of Auditors, ambassadors to the EU, among others,” said Alexander Winterstein, a Commission spokesman.
Some politicians outside the Commission have already committed more fully to transparency. Julia Reda, a Green MEP, created an automated system called LobbyCal to help her and other party members publicly publish their lobbying meetings almost instantly.
“You don’t have to employ an intern to log your meetings, it just becomes part of your routine,” she said, explaining that it only took “two extra clicks” to add an item to her calendar. “The Commission should totally use it.”
Ryan Collins contributed to this article.