Austria under pressure to lift ban by EC
2.Commission Advisory Groups biased towards business
3.Italian prankster spams EU lobbyist register
EXTRACTS: ...on important and controversial policy issues such as climate change, chemicals and food, policies are formulated on the advice of bodies strongly biased in favour of commercial interests. These findings raise serious concerns over the democratic nature of decision-making within the European Commission. (item 2)
"If any old fool can sign up to the [EU's voluntary register of lobbyists] and post whatever they want, without somebody seriously monitoring the data that's in there, what is the registry worth?"
"How do we know that Hill & Knowlton also has actually spent [Euros]8 million? Who's checking up on it? How can anybody trust any of the data the registry contains?" (item 3)
1.Austria under new pressure by EC to lift ban
By Zoe Casey
European Voice, February 11 2009
*Austria cited concerns about lower fertility levels, insects' resistance to the crops and possible effects on butterflies.
The European Commission today launched a bid to oblige Austria to lift its ban on two different types of genetically modified (GM) maize.
Austria banned the growing and marketing strains of maize MON810 and T25 in 1999 and 2000, invoking a safeguard clause that allows a member state to ban GMs provisionally if it finds new threats to the environment or human health. Austria argued that the safeguards were justified to preserve "different agricultural structures and regional ecological characteristics".
But the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in an opinion published in December that the Austrian evidence did not constitute new scientific proof that would invalidate EFSA's previous risk assessments, which cleared the maize types.
EFSA's GM panel also said that Austria had not supplied scientific evidence that the specific nature of Austria's ecology justified the ban.
Armed with this scientific opinion, the Commission is now seeking to end Austria's exceptionalism. The Commission's proposal, announced on 10 February, will be discussed at the next meeting of environment ministers from EU member states on 2 March.
However, the Commission might struggle to muster the political support needed to overturn Austria's ban. A previous attempt by the Commission in November 2007 was rejected by environment ministers.
In its evidence in support of the GM ban, Austria cited a study in which rats fed with MON810 showed a reduction in fertility. It also claimed that the corn-borer, which MON810 is designed to resist, could develop resistance, and that too little is known about the impact both GM varieties could have on butterflies.
2.Commission Advisory Groups biased towards business
Friends of the Earth Europe press release, 12 February 2009
Read Friends of the Earth Europe's report 'Whose views count?' online at
Brussels - Groups set up to advise the European Commission on controversial issues are unbalanced and undemocratic, warn environmental campaigners in a new report published today. 
The composition of most High Level Groups established by the European Commission's Directorate General (DG) Enterprise and Industry is skewed in favour of industry interests, and their recommendations and conclusions are geared towards improving the competitiveness of European business at the expense of other public interests, the research by Friends of the Earth Europe concludes.
Friends of the Earth Europe urges the Commission to stop setting up new High Level Groups, or any other advisory bodies, until fair and transparent mechanisms for their creation have been established, including clear and solid criteria that guarantee all stakeholders are consulted equally.
The author of the report, Friends of the Earth Europe's transparency campaigner Christine Pohl said: "The European Commission has a duty to protect the environment through its policies so it cannot be right that it is advised by groups dominated by commercial interests. The Commission's failure to take into account a broad range of different views is in clear contradiction with its own consultation standards."
'Whose views count? Business influence and the European Commission's High Level Groups' finds that on important and controversial policy issues such as climate change, chemicals and food, policies are formulated on the advice of bodies strongly biased in favour of commercial interests. These findings raise serious concerns over the democratic nature of decision-making within the European Commission.
Of the seven High Level Groups run by DG Enterprise and Industry during the term of Commissioner Verheugen (since 22 October 2004), two were dominated by industry representatives (industry representatives made up more than 50% of all members) and four were unbalanced in favour of industry (industry made up more than 50% of the non-governmental membership). Only one was not significantly unbalanced.
The corporate dominance of the groups is reflected in the recommendations and progress reports of the groups. 
Paul de Clerck, Friends of the Earth Europe's corporate accountability campaigner said: "Many discussions focus on controversial technological fixes like nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage or genetically modified crops, but the advice given by the groups puts profits of large companies ahead of people and the planet. Environmental and consumer interests are often sidelined or not given proper attention. No new groups should be established until the Commission can ensure they are transparent and unbiased."
Transparency levels of the seven groups were found to be inconsistent, with the Commission's register of expert groups  proving to be incorrect, often outdated and not consistent with the website DG Enterprise and Industry. Only four of the High Level Groups are listed in the register, two of which are no longer active. The third still active group, the HLG on the Competitiveness of the Agro-Food industry, is not listed, even though it first met six months ago (June 2008).
For more information please contact:
Christine Pohl, Transparency Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe:
Francesca Gater, Communications Officer for Friends of the Earth Europe:
 The seven High Level Groups examined are:
*High Level Group on Textiles and Clothing
*Pharmaceutical Forum (High Level)
*High Level Group on Competitiveness, Energy and Environment
*High Level Group on Competitiveness of the European Chemicals Industry
*High Level Group of Independent Stakeholders on Administrative Burdens
*High Level Group on the Competitiveness of the Agro-Food Industry
The recommendations of the first four groups which have already finalised their work reflect the industry bias:
The reports on Textiles and Clothing and CARS 21 raise contentious social and environmental issues, but the recommendations follow a market-oriented approach, watering down or disregarding standards in the name of competitiveness.
In the more balanced Pharmaceutical Forum, crucial areas were controlled by profit interests and recommendations on information to patients sought to water down the current ban on the advertising of prescription medicines despite opposition from public health groups.
The recommendations on Competitiveness, Energy and the Environment were less-narrowly profit-focused, perhaps because of growing public pressure to address climate change. But many goals were watered down to the benefit of companies and there was a clear emphasis on technological fixes like nuclear energy and CCS (carbon capture and storage) without recognising the proven or potential environmental and social risks.
It remains to be seen how balanced the final outcomes of the last three, still active, groups will be. The progress reports indicate that the recommendations will again be geared primarily towards improving the competitiveness of European industry.
The work programme and first reports from the HLG on the Competitiveness of the European Chemicals Industry already makes clear that this group is not providing many opportunities to debate environmental or consumer concerns.
The HLG on Administrative Burdens focuses exclusively on the reduction of administrative burdens for the benefit of companies without considering the potential negative effects and dangers of deregulation from a social, environmental and economic perspective.
The work agenda for the most recent HLG on the Competitiveness of the Agro-Food Industry offers little opportunity for environmental issues to be discussed. The first progress report indicates that GMOs are taking centre stage to the benefit of industry, despite years of public opposition.
3.Italian prankster spams EU lobbyist register
EUOBSERVER, 13 Feb 2009
BRUSSELS - The European Commission's voluntary online register of Brussels lobbyists has been hijacked by a mysterious mischief-maker who registered a string of seemingly fake companies.
Foremost amongst them is the 'Fares Bank Ltd' of Harley Street, London, which is supposed to have spent â‚¬250 million on lobbying institutions in 2008, immediately making it the biggest spender in the Register of Interest Representatives, a database of public relations companies, law firms, NGOs and think-tanks.
The vast sum looks all the more outlandish when put next to the two largest real lobbying outfits in Brussels, Hill & Knowlton, which had a turnover of about â‚¬8 million and Burston Marsteller on â‚¬7 million.
The Fares Bank entry states, in comically poor English, that it worked on banking legislation. "Fares Bank's activity is explicated in the international field and proposes itself as strategic partner of trades, giving professionality [sic], experience, competence, venture capitals."
The company's London address is the same as Virtual Serviced Offices, a private post office box in London "available on very flexible terms for a minimum period of one week." Its homepage is also skeletally bare.
The supposed Fares Bank director, Willy Bergher, gets just three Google hits - the commission registry, a Romanian literary review and the "Financial Insurance Services European Companies Union," which was "conceived by an idea of one of the greatest experts of world financial analysts engineer Willy Bergher."
A quick internet search reveals however that the Fares Bank website is registered to a Gennaro Ruggiero of Prato, Italy. Mr Ruggiero, or 'Dr Ruggiero', as he sometimes styles himself, has a much more prolific web presence than his ostensible associate.
The Italian character is also connected to an extended chain of likely ghost organisations on the internet, such as the 'International Association of Freelance Journalists', the 'Professional Order of Qualified Euro-advisors and Euro-planners', and the 'Observatory on Tourism in the European Islands', according to Erik Wesselius of pro-transparency NGO Corporate Europe Observatory.
Mr Ruggiero and another individual, Giuseppe Catapano, are also on the European Parliament's lobbying register as part of another virtual organisation, the 'Observatory of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe'.
Significantly, signing up to the parliament's database offers registrants permanent access badges to the European Parliament buildings, where security questions were raised after a bank robbery in broad daylight on Thursday (12 January).
Mr Wesselius, who discovered the Ruggiero network by chance while trawling through the commission's register, found at least 13 of the Italian's virtual organisations have signed up.
"It's just astonishing," he told the EUobserver. "I don't know whether this guy is deliberately fiddling with the commission's registry, or has delusions of grandeur that he is some international banking genius or what."
"But this seems to suggest that there is no regular oversight of the lobbying registry by the commission at all."
Describing a process where the registry has in effect been turned into depository of spam from a demented fantasist, Mr Wesselius said the registry has been seriously compromised.
"If any old fool can sign up to the registry and post whatever they want, without somebody seriously monitoring the data that's in there, what is the registry worth?" Mr Wesselius added.
"How do we know that Hill & Knowlton also has actually spent â‚¬8 million? Who's checking up on it? How can anybody trust any of the data the registry contains?"
European Commission spokesman Dale Kidd said the executive probably had not been aware of the fake entries and did not know how many other false registrations there are.
"We don't check all the entries, obviously," he said. "The information comes from the registrant and we put the burden for registering on them. It's their responsibility. The European Commission does not endorse or verify what goes in."