The European Commission was accused yesterday of a “grotesque” waste of taxpayers’ money after it allocated funding for an organisation that exists to lobby Brussels.
The lobby group, Friends of the Earth Europe, received £562,000 funding from the EU Commission last year.
Its commission funding rose this year by 200,000 in order to meet “increased running costs.” The group, which has a 25-strong staff in Brussels, is pre-eminent in lobbying the EU for tighter controls to combat global warming.
The commission argues that giving the organisation nearly half of its annual budget does not stop it from criticising the institution.
But Roger Helmer, a British Conservative MEP, says such funding is “anti-democratic”.
“In funding such NGOs the commission can be seen to be responding to apparently independent, voluntary groups while, in fact, it is actually paying to have itself lobbied to take actions which, in the main, it would wish to take anyway.
“There is something grotesque about millions of pounds being spent every year by the commission merely to fund groups lobby it.” He adds: “This is not a one-off. The commission has invited numerous pro-EU lobby groups and NGOs to a debate in October on the EU constitution.
“I wrote some time back asking for the invitation to be extended to UK eurosceptic groups to enable a balanced debate to take place. I am still waiting for a reply.” Anja Leetz, head of fundraising for Friends of the Earth Europe, rejected the criticism, saying: “There has to be some EU funding for groups like ours otherwise industry and big business would just have their own way.
“Being part funded by the commission doesn’t stop us from being critical if we disagree with its laws.” A commission spokesman said such funding helps “facilitate a full and frank” debate.
By Martin Banks
17 August 2007