The European Parliament is “expected to withhold approval for the European Environment Agency (EEA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA),” reads a note issued yesterday by the EU Assembly.
The decision is expected to be taken during a plenary session Thursday (10 May) that will discuss the 2010 budgets for the 24 EU agencies and decentralised bodies.
Monica Macovei, the Romanian Conservative MEP in charge of the dossier, will propose postponing the Assembly's approval for the budgets of the three agencies.
Conflicts of interests and revolving doors
Macovei told EurActiv that an announcement yesterday by Diána Bánáti – until then the chairperson of EFSA's management board – that she was moving to ILSI, a food and agro-chemical industry-funded body, served to underline the problem with conflicts of interest.
The original reason for delaying the discharge in relation to EFSA included a previous issue involving Bánáti who “did not mention in her declaration of interest that she was also on the board of ILSI-Europe," last October.
Bánáti stepped down from ILSI-Europe “after the situation was denounced by MEP José Bové” at that time, remaining as the chairperson of EFSA’s management board. Today she announced that she is now leaving EFSA for ILSI, where she will become director. EFSA issued a statement afterwards explaining that she would be leaving.
Members of the EFSA panel on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – over which Bánáti had powers of supervision – are in charge of authorising or banning GMOs on the EU territory, and are accused of having maintained tight links with the GMO industry, notably Monsanto and Syngenta.
“This moving back and forth between a safety authority and industry fails to provide the public that their actions are in the interests of consumers,” said Macovie. She added that Bánáti’s switch the day before the vote ought to help her persuade Parliament to block the discharge.
Meanwhile, a number of members and experts of the European Medicines Agency are also accused of having maintained too close contacts with the pharmaceutical industry.
“We have worked with Mrs Macovei’s office over the past months and responded to her on all the points raised during discussions. Despite all this we are disappointed to see that she continues to recommend postponement of the discharge for 2010,” said Martin Harvey of the EMA.
The executive director of the European Environment Agency, Jacqueline McGlade, is cited for financial wrongdoing and compromising links with Earthwatch, an environment organisation which has received funding from the EEA.
In time of crisis, hefty expenses
EFSA and EEA also stand accused of dubious expenses. EFSA’s board meetings cost an average of almost €100,000 each. In other words, when the agency's 15 members hold a meeting, this is costing EU taxpayers over €6,000 per person. This is “nearly three times higher than the second most expensive management board of a decentralised agency,” argues Macovei.
But probably the heaviest dossier on financial wrongdoing is about the EU environment agency. Trips to touristic resorts were reported as work travels by agency members, and donations and public procurement contracts are under investigation by EU authorities.
Other expenses at the agency appear questionable, like the €300,000 or so spent by the agency to redecorate the facade of its Copenhagen headquarters with greenery (see photo). The contract was also awarded without a tender, Macovei argues.
The agency has also subscribed a contract for media monitoring services with a financial ceiling of €250,000 in four years, which could cost the agency up to €60,000 a year. “This is excessive and contrary to the principle of efficient use of the taxpayers' money,” the MEP remarks.
Contacted by EurActiv, the EEA said it had spent only €11,300 on media monitoring per year because the ceiling has never been reached. As for the facade, the agency does not deny the cost of redecorating it, but underlined that it followed regular tendering procedures.
The new "living facade" was meant to be “the major communication for the EEA during the International Year of Biodiversity”, the agency claimed.
The revamp was a success, the EEA argued, as it “gained the interest of architects and city planners across Europe, and was seen by more than half a million visitors in situ and on-line". The living facade "was voted the best tourist attraction in Denmark in 2010,” the agency added.