Will the European Parliament’s leadership allow debate on CoFoE transparency?

Earlier this month, a coalition of four prominent MEPs from various European countries has launched an initiative to demand “full transparency with regard to the expenditure of the Conference on the Future of Europe”, in a motion for a resolution submitted to the European Parliament.

This is a topic we’ve been highlighting on this blog at several occasions.

In particular, the MEPs highlight in their motion for a resolution that:

  • “promotion of the conference began before its launch and is ongoing”
  • “public data indicates the spending of substantial sums of money to promote the conference”
  • “the total impact of activities relating to the conference on the EU budget is unclear”

It may not be a surprise to see that the MEPs (Swedish MEP Charlie Weimers, Finnish MEP Laura Huhtasaari, Danish MEP Peter Kofod and Dutch MEP Michiel Hoogeveen) are coming from Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, where transparency in public policy is considered of essential democratic importance.

The MEPs also stress they consider “it of the utmost importance to the future of Europe that EU institutions live up to citizens’ expectations with regard to transparency, openness and good governance”.

Therefore, they call “on the Commission, the Council and Parliament to show their commitment to transparency without delay by publishing all calls for proposals and tenders and all grants and other funding awarded in relation to the conference, as well as publishing a full account of the total costs incurred and expected, including a breakdown of expenditure by type of activity on an easily accessible and dedicated ‘sunshine section’ of the official conference platform.”

We really cannot wait to see whether the establishment groups in the EP will endorse this initiative or at least even allow discussion about it? Their OK is needed for it go forward. One would think this matter should be pretty obvious, but make no mistake about it: in April, a majority of Members of European Parliament already shamelessly voted against financial transparency surrounding the “Conference on the Future of Europe”, with Pirate MEPs and other supposedly pro transparency types coming up with all kinds of lame excuses to justify their questionable voting behaviour.

Will leading MEPs now change tack and embrace the transparency coalition, or at least allow discussion about the problematic transparency of the Conference on the Future of Europe”? We cannot wait to find out.

Quantifying the bias of the Conference on the Future of Europe

In an analyis worth reading, German AfD MEP Gunnar Beck takes a profound look at the speakers at the “Inaugural Plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe”, a topic we have covered earlier on this blog.

In the document, Beck discusses the “problems and possible solutions” surrounding “CoFoE”, as the farcical undertaking has come to be known.

He notes that “163 speakers took the floor” and that “40 Members of the European Parliament, 28 members of the Council of the EU, 27 citizens, representatives of national and regional parliaments, 6 representatives of civil society organisations, 5 members of the Commission, 9 members of the Committee of the Regions, 5 representatives of social partners, and 5 representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee”.

Interestingly, he has categorized each speech in one of three categories, noting that 110 were “pro EU”, only 20 were “Eurosceptic” and 33 were “neutral”.

Looking at the “citizens” in particular, he notes that 55.6% of them were “pro-EU”, only 11.1% were “eurosceptic” and 33.3% were “neutral”.

Possibly even worse is “civil society”, where 83% were “pro-EU”, 17% were “eurosceptic” and 0% were “neutral”.

This should not surprise, as in our previous blog we highlighted some of these “citizens”, revealing that pretty much all of them were EU insiders, often even on the EU’s payroll.

Beck concludes:

“If compared to the most recent data from Eurobarometer on the Future of Europe, all categories of speakers showed a clear disproportionate support for more EU integration. This means that, based on the general sentiments expressed at the Inaugural Plenary, we can expect the Conference to come forward with ambitious compromises asking for more integration at EU level. This is clearly not in line with the general views and preferences of European citizens. This risks to further alienate citizens from the European project, and deepen, rather than close the chasm between the EU institutions and European citizens.”

Exclusive: who are the “citizens” of the EU Future Conference?

The inaugural plenary of the “Conference on the Future of Europe” took place in Strasbourg, in the building of the European Parliament, which moves there every month as part of its costly “traveling circus”. During the session, a number of so-called “citizens” and members of “civil society” intervened, to contribute to the debate of what supposedly constitutes the “future of Europe”

On this blog, we can EXCLUSIVELY reveal how many of these so-called “citizens” can hardly be described as randomly chosen people. Instead, a lot of them, appear to be “EU insiders”, people deeply involved in EU policy making, and often on the EU’s payroll.

An overview:

George Pagoulatos, Professor at Athens University of Economics and Business, as well as Visiting Professor at the College of Europe since 2006

Daniela Ioana Toutpati – academic at Brussels VUB university and “Understanding Europe Coordinator” of the “European Youth Parliament”

Silja Markkula, European Youth Forum

Gergana Passy, Founder and President of PanEuropa Bulgaria

Nikolai Boysen, European Youth Forum

Stephanie Hartung, Pulse of Europe

Francisco Aldecoa, political scientist, author of La Europa que viene: el tratado de Lisboa

Noelle O’Connell, ceo of European Movement Ireland

Martin Mrsa, Croatian Youth Association “Youth in the European Union”

Antonis Kourras, President of Cyprus Youth Council, which promotes “EU Youth Dialogue” on its website

Kristine Zonberga, European Citizens Initiative Ambassador, Latvia

Justinas Kulys, Policy Analyst at the European Economic and Social Committee

Kinga Joo, member at European Economic and Social Committee

Mandy Falzon, appointed by Maltese Europe Minister Helena Dalli as the designate Head of MEUSAC- the Malta-EU Steering and Action Committee (MEUSAC), first set up in 1999 to oversee the process of Malta’s accession to the European Union

Leverne Nijman, Dutch Youth Representative European Affairs, Dutch Youth Council

Elsie Gisslegård, an active member of the Swedish EU-federalist Centre Party

Regina Bastos, former Portugese MEP

Alina Bârgăoanu, Center for European Studies at Harvard (likely EU funded)

Ninni Norra, selected as Finland’s citizen representative, has served in the local council of the European Youth Parliament

Paola Severino, former Italian Justice Minister, serving under Italian PM Mario Monti, Italy’s favorite PM among eurocrats

Apart from these so-called “citizens”, there were also members supposedly representing “civil society”. Among these, there were representatives of the “European Movement International” and the “Union of European Federalists (UEF)”. Surely, receiving EU cash should disqualify any organisation to be presented as “civil society”, certainly in the context of an EU policy discussion.

This whole thing simply is a farce.

Will the European Parliament please stand up ?

The European Parliament is supposedly tasked with scrutiny of EU activities and at last it seems like some MEPs have started demanding answers on the expenditure and the paid promotion of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Over 20 parliamentarians led by Swedish MEP Charlie Weimers (ECR) have asked the Commission to come clean on the expenditure of the Conference. Together they write:

Last year the European Parliament offered funding opportunities for activities linked to the Conference on the Future of Europe(1)(2). Social media campaigns indicate that taxpayers’ money is being used to generate youth and civil society engagement as well as media coverage of the conference(3).

A majority of Parliament voted to reject a ‘commitment to full transparency’ relating to the funding of the conference(4). EU institutions use separate budgets to finance the conference, and no information pertaining to the financing or grants awarded in connection with the conference is available on the official conference website.

Considering that transparency and openness of decision-making procedures are foundational values of the EU and essential to a system under the rule of law:

1. Can the Commission account for the total budgetary impact of the conference, and what is the breakdown of the expenditure per type of activity funded?

2. Can the Commission provide a list of all calls for proposals and tenders, and all grants awarded in relation to the conference?

3. Will it show its commitment to transparency by ensuring relevant financial information is easily accessible, for example on the ‘about’ page of the official conference website?

Four German MEPs from the ID group have asked the Commission about the official conference platform.

On 19 April 2021, the multilingual digital platform for the Conference on the Future of Europe was launched. Could the Commission please answer the following questions on this platform:

1. How much is the Commission planning to spend on visibility and communication campaigns to promote this digital platform to EU citizens?

2. Given the low initial participation rates, is there a minimum number of participants required to validate this digital platform as being a fair representation of the views of all EU citizens?

3. Online democracy platforms face a significant risk of manipulation through fake accounts and bots, which have the potential to distort the popularity of the ideas and initiatives proposed on this platform. What measures are in place to ensure that the reliability of this platform is not affected by malicious users?

Let’s hope the Commission decides to live up to all the talk of transparency and sunshine and comes clean with regard to the financing of the Conference. In the meantime we await the 30th of June publication by the European Parliament of the 2020 grant recipients.

“An important moment”

Tomorrow morning, the inaugural plenary session will take place in Strasbourg.

The plenary is composed of 108 MEPs, 54 Council representatives (two per Member State), 3 EU Commission eurocrats and 108 representatives from national parliaments.

The Parliament Magazine reveals the agenda of the talking shop:

“The agenda, seen by this site, includes presentations and discussions on the purpose and expectations of the conference, including European citizens’ and national panels.”

You may forgiven to have missed that this event would take place, but according to Bulgarian MEP Sergei Stanishev, the President of the Party of European Socialists, “this is an important moment; our political family understands that instinctively. We have an opportunity to embed what matters for our communities into Europe’s future.”

The wife of Sergei Stanishev was once awarded a €60,000 tender European Parliament cash, at least according to the EPP, so perhaps it is not a surprise to see this Bulgarian politician hailing the conference as “an important moment”.

Before, we have recalled the lack of transparency with regards to EP tendering for the “Conference on the Future of Europe”.

Will Sergei Stanishev’s environment once again be on the receiving end? We are not saying he will, but when tenders are not published on the website of the “Conference on the Future of Europe” itself, but only in some dark corner of the European Parliament’s website, there clearly is an increased risk for insiders to get their hands on all of that CoFoE cash.

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Buying attention

In a report obtained by this blog, assessing the success of the launch of the “Conference on the Future of Europe”, eurocrats boast about the event organised on 9 May in Parliament’s hemicycle in Strasbourg. In particular on social media attention, they write:

“The reach on Facebook was of 4 million, with 6 million impressions, 13,000 interactions (reactions, comments and shares) and 2.3 million video views. The total Twitter interactions were 1,000 (likes, comments and RTs), 6,000 video views, 10,000 live viewers, 94,000 impressions and 4,000 minutes watched among the 24 language accounts. The Europarl YouTube channel garnered 100 interactions, 1.100 video views and 6.600 impressions for a total of 6,000 minutes watched.”

Anyone dealing with social media, knows of course how attention is really for sale there. We will definitely return to this, but here is some initial evidence of EU actors buying social media attention with taxpayers money. Ultimately, as we gather more information about this, it should be possible to come up with the total cost to taxpayers per social media user paying attention to the “Conference on the Future of Europe”:

Tragic news

Yesterday evening, tragic news was brokered by German green MEP Daniel Freund, who announced that the plenary meeting of 108 MEPs for the “Conference on the Future of Europe” had to be cancelled because one of the EP Groups (ID) was “not able to send as many women as men.”

Legal equality of the sexes is of course something to be supported, but this degree of obsession can surely only survive in the European Parliament bubble.

The man goes on to complain that this is testimony of “blocking progress on EU reform because of antiquated patriarchal believes. What a shame!”.

Previously, we have discussed what kind of “progress” EU centralizers have in mind: another round of transfers of power to the EU level. Behind the screams of “patriarchy”, that’s what really concerns them.

Moves to use CoFoE as a vehicle for Treaty change are under way

Two weeks after the “official launch” of the “Conference on the Future of Europe”, which saw French President Emmanuel Macron surpassing his allotted speaking time to extoll the virtues of the European Parliament’s wasteful transfer between Brussels and Strasbourg, it is time to make up a balance of how it has been received.

The backstory is that the 9 May launch of the thing had been postponed, due to “inter-institutional wrangling about the mandate and format for the Conference”.

This ended in a compromise, according to which the conference plenary will be composed of representatives from the main EU institutions, as well as national parliamentarians, regional deputies, social partners, NGOs, plus randomly-selected citizens. Of the 433 participants, 108 will be citizens.

The idea is that any citizens’ proposals approved in the plenaries will be reflected in the final report, which is supposed to include the conclusions of the conference by spring 2022. According to EUObserver, this is “a timely date for French president Emmanuel Macron, who was a major force in pushing the idea.” There’s really not a lot of effort being made that the whole initiative is supposed to serve Macron’s re-election agenda, a rather less lofty goal than the official line that it is supposed to “strengthening citizens participation”.

According to German far left MEP Martin Schirdewan, “The Conference is threatening to degenerate into a mere talking shop”, specifying:

“The EU institutions have been arguing for over a year about what it should be and is allowed to do. What falls by the wayside is the actual goal of the Conference; namely to give citizens, trade unions, social movements and NGOs a voice in our democracy. So far, the only thing that we can agree on is the start date. The rest though has ended up looking more like a tragedy.”

At least some MEPs are doing their jobs, and are questioning the opaque financing of the conference or “#CoFoE”, as the thing is known on twitter.

Together with his Romanian ECR colleague Swedish Cristian Terheș, senior ECR MEP Charlie Weimers, questioned this, with Terhes pointing out that “the majority of MEPs have long lectured Poland and Hungary on rule of law, or Romania and Bulgaria on how to properly fight corruption but they all voted against transparency so the European people would not know how the money for this Conference is spent.”

Even EU federalists have grave misgivings about the whole thing. For example, Giles Merritt, founder of Friends of Europe, said: “The Conference launched in Strasbourg on Sunday is doomed from the start. Aiming to define a reform strategy for the European Union, it is saddled with three co-chairs, representing the Commission, Parliament and Council. This will inevitably mean deadlock on all but the most anodyne questions.”

Since the launch, some online events – equally opaquely funded – have been hosted, but not much of importance has been happening.

However, there are some indications that behind the surface, the exercise is more than just a marketing gimmick to help Emmanuel Macron remain President of France. The European Parliament continues to push for working groups whereby there would be dialogues with political families, where national and European deputies can engage in discussions.

Renew Europe MEP Sandro Gozi, president of the Union of European Federalists (UEF),  is actually quite open about it. He thinks his allies need “to exploit the full political potential of this unprecedented Conference”, adding that “the speeches by Costa and Von der Leyen were very cautious, especially on the possible objectives to be taken as a follow-up to the conference, for example on the revision of the treaties. We need to create a strong pressure from below. We will ask to participate in the conference as NGOs: it’s a tough battle, but we have all the requirements to ask for it”.

Also European Parliament President David Sassoli has stated that EU treaty reform “shall not be taboo”. As always, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is very much on the side of those trying to grab power from member states, as she declared last month that “In the health domain the EU needs more powers and competences and that may necessitate treaty change. That would be important and I am always open to treaty change.”

This all seems to be happening against the wishes of at least 12 EU governments that are opposed to Treaty change. Ireland is among them, but its government already seems to be folding. The country must be open to the idea of treaty change in the EU, Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin has now made clear, as he added he had spoken to the leaders of the other Coalition parties and “all three leaders are clear that we have to open to potential treaty change”.

Ireland’s position here is important, given that Treaty change would require a referendum in Ireland.

Just like Merkel, Martin called for greater EU powers in the areas of public health and climate change.

Oddly, he mentioned that “co-operation on vaccine ordering and manufacturing” had been a “tremendous success for the European Union”. Perhaps he already forgot how the EU has been slipping behind the UK and the US in international comparisons on vaccine administration. Those catching Covid during that period may have a different opinion.

Let’s see where this is all going but what is clear is that beneath the surface, some are scheming to use this conference as a vehicle for Treaty change, to shift even more power to the EU level.

Follow the Money – Part one: The European Parliament

MILLIONS of taxpayers money will be spent by the EU parliament (EP) in order to generate engagement for the “Conference on the Future of Europe”.

This blog can EXCLUSIVELY report on two “calls for proposals” that were made by the EP last Summer. The “calls for proposals” are an invitation for those desiring to get some EP cash to then generate engagement for “CoFoE”.

Are you interested in receiving some EP money? Sorry, too late. The deadline has already passed.

AMAZINGLY, the calls were not published on the website of the “Conference on the Future of Europe” itself. They were only published in some dark corner of the European Parliament’s website, which is possibly even more of an impenetrable maze than the European Parliament’s buildings.

This raises very serious questions.

Who was able to get their hands on the money? Were they tipped off that money would be available?

Social media activity indicates that only EU-fanatic pressure groups are engaging with this event. Were they the only ones receiving EP cash to generate engagement?

Screenshot of call for proposal published by the European Parliament

Only by the 30th of June, we’ll be able to discover who has won these EP grants. That’s two full months after the Conference platform to engage has opened up to the public. That’s if the European Parliament, which is not known to be overly respectful of these kind of deadlines, complies with the rules;

IF IT APPEARS that only EU-funded groups that incessantly promote more power for the EU were the ones able to get their hands on the EP cash, that would mean that the “Conference on the Future of Europe” would have been compromised as FUNDAMENTALLY BIASED from its very start.

How much EU-funding all kinds of EU groups receive to generate engagement and participation is something which should be disclosed in the spirit of full transparency.

Perhaps, it is no wonder that MEPs have voted AGAINST financial transparency for the Conference, as we also disclosed.

On top of all this, taxpayers will also need to pay for what the EU Commission and the EU Council plan to spend to promote the Conference. This is still unclear as well. A qualified guess would be that it would amount to 1 or 2 times the amount the European Parliament spends. One EU insider thinks the Conference could in the end cost Europeans “an estimated €200m”.

It is bad enough that hard pressed European taxpayers need to pay for this, but it would be even more scandalous if the money would be diverted to groups promoting ever more power for the EU.

Call for proposals COMM/SUBV/2020/M for the co-financing of media actions under the multi-annual work programme for grants in the area of communication 2020-2021

Call for proposals COMM/SUBV/2020/E for the co-financing of citizens’ engagement actions under the multi-annual work programme for grants in the area of communication 2020-2021

Voting against financial transparency – the excuses are in

This blog exclusively uncovered how a majority of Members of European Parliament shamelessly voted AGAINST financial transparency surrounding the “Conference on the Future of Europe”. In other words, they were of the opinion that taxpayers should be paying for their – extremely biased – reflection exercise but that it was really not a good idea for those taxpayers to know what would precisely be financed.

Here are some of their excuses:

German Pirate MEP Patrick Breyer (who sits with the green group in the EP):

A bit of a lame excuse, we think. Why vote against a call for “keeping of separate accounts”, something which can make it easier to scrutinise?

One Czech Pirate MEP came to support the German Pirate-in-need:

So apparently citizens and journalists having to deep-dive and search for grants and tenders on three separate institution websites instead of for example displaying all funding involved on the official platform /about section should be considered as Pirate-style transparency.

Then, at least our Pirate friends were so kind to respond, unlike Renew and GUE, for example, despite the fact that we have asked them multiple times to explain their puzzling voting behaviour. Apparently, EU citizens are not only not good enough to be able to properly scrutinize CoFoE financial undertakings, they are also not even worthy of a simple reply on twitter.

Also, this European Commission top advisor has waded in, providing yet another line of defense:

A bit of a weird take.

The fact that a certain amendment was part of a series of separate amendments should not prejudice on how to vote on it.

Also, a “commitment to full transparency” does not mean another committee is needed. The Commission and Parliament could easily be open and publish all communication & engagement related grants under the /about section.

Why don’t they?

Are they trying to hide something?