Photographer:Fotograaf: European Committee of the Regions
MAASTRICHT. Visitors to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, should know exactly where they need to be, says director James Calleja, because taxi drivers won't be able to find it. This unfamiliarity of European agencies - independent institutes that do research, advise the European Union (EU), and monitor the implementation of European policies – with the citizen is regarded as one of the greatest challenges that they experience. Last Thursday, a few agency directors, representatives and members of the public discussed the development and future of European agencies during ‘Europe Calling’, an event organised by Maastricht University (UM), among others, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty.
Some 270 students, academics, agency directors, and representatives fill the theatre hall of La Bonbonnière. A digital projector displays a question on the wall behind the speakers: ‘Do you believe that EU agencies are sufficiently independent from private interests’? The audience is able to vote with their phones: ‘No’, said almost eighty per cent of those present. “This doesn’t surprise me,” says Monique Goyens, director of European Consumer Organisation BEUC. “At the moment, many agencies lack adequate and open communication.”
In all three topics discussed last Thursday afternoon, ‘communication’ and ‘transparency’ played a major role. The first point of discussion was ‘involvement and trust by stakeholders and citizens in the work of EU agencies’. The European Union has almost 480 million inhabitants, but for most of those, the agencies are invisible: “I estimate that 99% of the British people didn't know of the existence or the location of the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Agency in London, until the newspapers were crammed with articles about job losses because these institutes were to leave the United Kingdom as a result of Brexit,” says Graham Smith, member of the cabinet of European Ombudsman.
There was time for questions from the audience at the end of each subject discussed. “Last year, José Manuel Barroso, former chairman of the European Commission, went to investment bank Goldman Sachs. Do you intend to do something about this type of revolving door politics and are you also going to move to the private sector when you leave the agency?” were some of the comments from the audience. Adam Farkas, executive director at the European Banking Agency (EBA), says that it is not strange that these people take jobs in the private sector, but that it is very important that the process of transition is transparent.
The EBA is most likely the most transparent agency in Europe. “We publish everything: conclusions of risk assessments, minutes of every meeting we have, all the data we use, and we’ll even publish that I spoke here today,” says Farkas. Still many citizens don't know exactly what the agency does. “We issued publications about the Bitcoin years ago. Professional parties do know how to find this information, but it didn't really hit the news across the EU. This is a great challenge for us.” And therefore, they said, many agencies now focus on social media.