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?

MEPs just voted AGAINST financial transparency for the Conference on the Future of Europe

Last week, the European Parliament voted on whether there should be “clarifications on financing of the “Conference on the Future of Europe” when it comes to “the conditions for financing this conference and the consequences for the [European Parliament]’s budget”.

The amendment also asked MEPs to support “a commitment to full transparency on the expenditure of this conference, including the keeping of separate accounts and an audit report by the European Court of Auditors for each year of functioning”

Guess how MEPs voted on this?

You’d think it’s a no-brainer for all MEPs to support this. Even proponents of the “future of Europe” talking shop shouldn’t have any problem with full transparency, right?

Think again.

The whole thing was voted down with 329 MEPs voting in favour, 360 against, and 10 abstaining.

Here’s a breakdown (SOURCE):

Almost everyone in EPP, ECR and ID supported transparency, with some notable dissent from the group line.

The great proponents of CoFoE, the “pro-European” “Renew” group and the greens, unanimously rejected transparency. Also the socialists and the far left mostly voted against, but at least a few among them still supported the idea.

With so few votes making the difference it is hard to understand how MEPs from transparency-minded Nordic and Western European Member States could vote to reject transparency in such a blatant manner. Did they think people wouldn’t notice?

Noteworthy is that the co-chair of the Executive Board of the Conference, Guy Verhofstadt (Renew, BE) voted against transparency. The EPP representative on the Board voted in favor while the socialist voted against. Of the observers on the Executive Board only Zdzisław Krasnodębski (ECR, PL) voted for transparency. Daniel Freund (Greens/EFA, DE) and Helmut Scholz (The Left, DE) voted against. In a bizarre twist Gerolf Annemans (ID, BE) abstained. He is observer for the same ID group that tabled the amendment.

Just when you thought the “Conference on the Future of Europe” was a rather extreme example of Brussels navel-gazing, there’s the European Parliament – an institution supposed to scrutinize EU policy making – to take it one step further and publicly reject financial transparency.

Nobody seems happy with the “Conference on the Future of Europe”.

It seems like nobody is actually happy with the whole “Conference on the Future of Europe”.

Polish MEP Ryszard Legutko pointed out that “it’s the Council, not the Parliament or the Commission that can convene such a conference”, further suggesting not “to deviate from what the Treaties have stipulated”, a rather unpopular thing to do in EU circles:

On this turn, Swedish MEP Charlie Weimers, warned:

“The goal is clear: to transfer more power to the EU. Such a transfer of power, however, lacks any kind of popular support.”

Spanish MEP Jorge Buxade went on to warn about the increasingly evident bias of the ‘Conference on the Future of Europe’, saying:

“If we start the debate by denying participation to other ways of seeing Europe, if this Parliament takes sides, this conference is born already mortally wounded.”

Also non-eurosceptics have expressed scepticism. For example Andras Baneth, the author of the Ultimate EU Test Book, the best-seller on EU exams for those seeking EU careers and a former Commission official with the Barroso commission) suggests to “just cancel the Future of Europe Conference”:

No matter how hard they try to make these future-looking discussions citizen-driven, bottom-up, and representative of European society, the voices present will not speak for what the majority of Europeans want.

Why would a random, unrepresentative mix of civil servants, self-appointed opinion leaders, and vocal activists be the ones to decide where the EU should be heading?”

German green MEP Daniel Freund, who leads negotiations on the conference for his group, wasn’t a happy bunny either during the run-up to the conference, complaining in February that: “I am perplexed why the Council would seek to exclude certain political families from the key body of the conference … Restricting the agenda-setting in this way might risk the success of the conference.”

Also the “Brussels bubble” media isn’t too thrilled, as an editorial in Politico reads as follows:

“Macron’s grand idea for a Europe-wide discussion, the sort of thing that EU leaders often resist as a navel-gazing exercise, instead turned into a navel-gazing exercise about a navel-gazing exercise.

The outset of the coronavirus pandemic also removed some urgency from the project, as the prospect of a traveling troupe of Brussels officials, touring across 27 countries for a series of hours-long town hall meetings, suddenly seemed rather preposterous.”

Nobody really seems happy. Perhaps that should lead to a certain conclusion?

“Listening to the people” isn’t exactly the EU’ strongest point

During an online meeting to discuss the EU’s “Conference on the Future of Europe”, Portugese EPP MEP Lídia Pereira made the following point:

EPP Group on Twitter: “.@lidiafopereira says the power of Europe to listen to people and to understand them is crucial. #CoFoE has to deliver this and respond” / Twitter

For our younger readers, it is worth recalling that this isn’t actually something the EU has made a habit of in its history.

An overview:

In 1992, A referendum on the EU’s Maastricht Treaty was held in Denmark. It was rejected by 50.7% of voters with a turnout of 83.1%.

Danish voters were asked to vote again, in 1993, (after some opt-outs were granted to the country)

In 2001, the EU’s Treaty of Nice was rejected in a referendum by Irish voters.

They were asked to vote on it again, in 2002, after the Irish government obtained a piece of paper the Seville Declaration on Ireland’s policy of military neutrality from the European Council.

In 2005, voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the European Constitution.

This was repackaged into the Lisbon Treaty, after some symbols – like the European flag – were removed (never mind that the EU simply continues to use that flag everywhere). Valery Giscard d’Estaing, architect of the EU’s “Constitution” explained at the time that Lisbon was the same as the rejected constitution but that only the format had been changed to avoid referendums.

To avoid a referendum appeared impossible in Ireland, which rejected the Lisbon Treaty, in a 2008 referendum.

Ireland was asked to vote again on the Treaty one year later, in 2009.

Spot a pattern?