Transparent Europe

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Back to Brussels: the man who brought the European Commission to its knees is back to torment its successors

In the recent elections to the European Parliament, alongside two members of the EU-critical Socialist Party, Dutch voters handed two seats to a list established and headed by Paul van Buitenen, well known in and beyond the Netherlands as the whistleblower who in 1999 forced out the corrupt Commission headed by Jacques Santer. Why did van Buitenen decide to make his bid for a seat in the EP, and what does he hope to achieve now he and a supporter have achieved this goal? Below we print a translation of the manifesto which won him over 7% of the vote, just in front of the SP and the pro-EU Green Left, as well as two other lists from established parties.

Non-political

Transparent Europe is non-political in the sense that it is not dominated by any particular party political tendency.  Our “moral baggage” can be found in the struggle for openness and against fraud, corruption and nepotism. These are values which are common to every law-based state, the preconditions for good governance. For Europe the challenge is – surrounded as it is by bureaucracy, religious fundamentalism and the aftershocks of Stalinism – to take a democratic path capable of ridding us of existing tensions and replacing them with dialogue. Is that left wing or right wing? We would rather see it in terms of honesty versus corruption. A hundred percent unanimity is a utopian ideal. Interests and opinions will always clash, but we can at least take decisions on the basis of trustworthy information, because only then will such decisions be worth something. The cynics say that the world is happy to be corrupt. We have serious doubts that that is the case.

The non-political character of Transparent Europe is a conscious choice. Tackling abuses and disinformation and furthering transparency and responsibility will demand all of our time. We have no desire to be traditional politicians with an opinion on every issue, because this would draw us into the demanding system of questions, debates, reports, meetings, negotiations and travelling. Transparent Europe is concerned by abuses and by finding solutions to these abuses and invites the voters to look over our shoulders as we pursue these concerns.

Divide the Power, reunite Europe

There are in reality only two political systems in the world: the system of concentration of power in the hands of dictators of left or right, religious fanatics or aristocrats of industry, and the system of division of power, under which everyone is equal before the law and can make his or her voice heard. This latter system is at one and the same time both the best and the most difficult: popular representatives control those who carry out their directives and enforce laws developed in the name of the people. This “democracy”, to which we believe ourselves accustomed, is in fact only possible under conditions of complete transparency and where politicians have a strong sense of responsibility. Lastly, it is no small thing to act on behalf of millions of people. Anyone to whom so much trust has been extended should be prepared to get out amongst the voters, cultivating contact with them and fulfilling the trust they have placed in him.

Separation of powers

As well as a division of power, democracy demands the spreading and sharing of powers: legislative and executive powers, powers of control and justice.  At one time the European Commission was an independent institution, but now it has become a bastion which Members of the European Parliament can rarely penetrate.  What power does a MEP have, for instance, if the Commission gives a ridiculous answer to his or her question? In fact, the Parliament’s power of control has become nothing more than a display, done entirely for show. A division of powers is also needed within the Commission itself: the Commissioner responsible for the budget is also in charge of budgetary control. And her portfolio is indeed full. Every year €100 billion passes through Brussels. Our money, your money, taxpayers’ money. Fraud is theft: it enriches the perpetrators and impoverishes Europe.  The additional costs attendant upon the admission of new member states could be met from within the existing budget. But as a consequence of corruption, the squandering of money, and mismanagement, the resources needed to address such problems are frittered away. The Commission constantly pleads its innocence, blaming the member states for fraud – even the future member states, for which all final decisions over the spending of European moneys are taken by the Commission itself! That things have got to this point has everything to do with the arrogance of power, a lack of any sense of responsibility and an aversion to control. The leaders of Europe do not want to be controlled from outside, but also fail to exert any control themselves: do not unto others what you do not wish them to do unto you. It sounds almost sympathetic, were it not for the fact that openness and control are two sides of the same coin.

€30 billion wasted?

The total budget of the European Commission amounts to €100 billion per annum. With the accession of new member states, a further increase to €140 billion has been sought. Some indicators of irregularities, fraud and waste of funds:

·         At Eurostat, more than 30% of financial transactions are not in good order.

·         The criteria under which subsidies for vocational training are awarded are systematically tampered with.

·         In agriculture 44% of the institutions responsible for making payments have failed, as a result of irregularities, to have their accounts approved.

·         The structural funds continue to receive and disburse moneys despite objections from their own monitoring service.

·         The billions paid in subsidies to Eastern Europe include a large proportion which never found its way to those sections of the population for which the money was intended. Despite this, the Commission continues to make payments.

Transparent Europe estimates that at the present time almost a third of the total budget is misspent. Transparent Europe’s view is therefore that no extra money should be paid to Brussels until this waste is brought into the open and the existing budget spent in a responsible manner.

Control

One illustration of the aversion to control is provided by OLAF, the internal fraud service of the European Union’s institutions. However tough the name may make it sound, OLAF is entirely dependent on the European Commission, and it is the Commission to which it must report – a team of investigators in the service of the wrongdoers. None of its documents is secure. OLAF is full of leaks – and who, citizen or parliamentarian, is going to trust such a leaky vessel by handing over explosive evidence? The chance that OLAF will achieve anything is clearly smaller than the chance that the citizen or parliamentarian will achieve something without OLAF. Only in relation to small matters has OLAF ever achieved anything,.

More than a consumer

Another threat to the separation of powers is privatisation and the increasing entanglement of governmental authority and industry. Not only Commissioners and their staff, but also parliamentarians are vulnerable to temptation. It is a slippery slope: a firm sponsors a football club, the weather forecast, a film, a contribution to development aid, a political campaign, until the political enterprise and the enterprising politician are ever more difficult to tell apart. There is a growing tendency to see the citizen first and foremost as a consumer. But we are much more than purchasers of potatoes and rice; a state based on the rule of law isn’t something you can pick up in a mobile grocers. We have many needs that cannot be fulfilled by the (super)market: affordable education health care, an independent judiciary and press, freedom of speech and religion, and a healthy environment. A civil servant or politician who dilutes the general interest with his own private interests cannot continue to function. Division of power means separation of powers and both of these demand control. Demand transparency!

Really important? 

What has to be done to tackle the problem?

In the European Parliament Members from Transparent Europe will work exclusively to gain access to “reliable information”.  Fellow parliamentarians are not seen as opponents, but fellow controllers who will profit from our efforts.

What is needed is a European information point for abuses and mismanagement of European moneys, initially under the supervision of Transparent Europe. An interactive website will strengthen contact with the voter in relation to such matters. In addition, the organisation of a database of irregularities and current investigations will further contribute to this strengthening. It will, moreover, not rest content with one-off announcements; everything which is not properly conducted will be maintained in a follow-up system so that the authorities’ investigations will be permanently monitored.

The voter will be able to keep up to date with developments, so that things will no longer be hushed up. The duty of employees to remain silent, which has been cherished for far too long, should be replaced by the right to speak.

It is also important that a European Assessment Office be established able to give advice and support to whistle-blowers from any member state. Dormant institutions such as OLAF or the Committee on Budgetary Control must be woken up and returned to work. A European Public Ministry should be established to ensure control of spending of European money and act independently in the fight against abuses.  Appointments in this area should no longer be influenced by political considerations, but should on the contrary be decided independently and transparently on the basis of qualifications for the job. In this way effective monitoring by OLAF and the European Court of Auditors will no longer be diluted by political considerations.

Outside Parliament we will support actions which strive towards the same ends: the reanimation of democracy and the revival of participation and trust on the part of the voters. We will take action ourselves where official bodies fail to do so. Whenever necessary shocking dossiers will be saved from obscurity and, after suitable study and explanation, made public in order to bring about a breakthrough in the will towards truly fundamental reforms of the European institutions and the bodies responsible for monitoring them.

A sound cooperation with the press is indispensable. The press must receive information enabling it to bring about a breakthrough. The press is the bridge to the voter.

If we do our job well enough, we will become unnecessary. Transparent Europe can boast a high tally of whistle-blowers and a large proportion of people with the same wearying characteristic: a well-developed conscience. They are putting themselves at the service of the European Parliament and the European electorate. That their work will not be limited to exposing fraud and other abuses is obvious from our definition of a European citizen as someone who is much more than a consumer. Transparency is needed if the confidence of the disappointed voter is to be won back and if the European Parliament is again to fulfil its tasks of control and monitoring. The eventual aim of the list is to make ourselves redundant. If we perform well and achieve our aims, we will become unnecessary.