Commission kept no records on Davos meeting between von der Leyen and Palantir CEO

Last year Ursula von der Leyen promised to lead a 'geo-political' Commission. It's time to get real on putting that into practice, argue Nicole Koenig and Nils Redeker. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

No detailed records exist concerning a January meeting between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the CEO of controversial US data analytics firm Palantir, the EU executive has said in response to a EURACTIV query.

According to documentation in Palantir’s transparency register entry, a meeting between von der Leyen and Palantir’s Alex Karp took place during the World Economic Forum in Davos on 22 January this year.

However, a recent EURACTIV freedom of information request, which called for the Commission to release all documentation related to the meeting, revealed that in fact, the executive holds no records corresponding to the encounter.

Controversy

The US big data analytics firm became infamous following a 2018 partnership agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in which the company was contracted to deploy its Investigative Case Management (ICM) system, used as part of President Donald Trump’s bid to deport millions of immigrants from the US.

It has also been previously alleged that Palantir worked with Cambridge Analytica, the political analytics firm that illegally obtained the personal data of around 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge. Around 2.7 million of those users were EU-based.

More recently, Palantir hit the headlines after a report from Bloomberg revealed that the UK’s National Health Service has contracted an agreement with the firm, allowing Palantir to access the sensitive personal data of members of the public in order to assist in the country’s measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

‘Chance encounter’

In response to the news that no detailed records were kept of the January meeting between von der Leyen and Palantir, a Commission official informed EURACTIV that “encounters in Davos are for the most part informal discussions and do not lead to written read-outs.”

The official added that the specific encounter between von der Leyen and Karp was a “chance pull-aside” in a corridor, and that the “President and the CEO of Palantir know each other from the past.”

“There are simply no documents related to these sorts of encounters,” the official said.

Transparency

The news that the Commission holds no records of the meeting came as calls continue to rise about the importance of transparency between lobbyists and high-level political officials.

“Unfortunately, this is another example of a growing list of Commissioners who have failed to keep any notes of their interactions with corporate lobbyists,” Margarida Silva, a researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), told EURACTIV.

“These failures are important as they limit citizen’s ability to know what was discussed and what companies like Palantir want from EU policy-making.”

In this vein, a 2019 report from EUObserver revealed that the Commission had consistently failed to keep written records of discussions between Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová and leaders from global technology companies, a fact for which Jourová, who is now responsible for overseeing ‘transparency’ as part of her portfolio, later expressed regret.

Despite the lack of documentation kept on such meetings, at the start of her term in office, von der Leyen had noted ‘transparency’ as a political priority during her tenure at the top of the EU executive.

“If Europeans are to have faith in our Union, its institutions should be open and beyond reproach on ethics, transparency and integrity,” von der Leyen wrote in her political guidelines for the 2019-2024 term.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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