The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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"Anonymization" - the new cover-up

Dr Helen Szamuely

After the spectacular self-destruction of Jacques Santer's Commission in 1999, the newly appointed President Romano Prodi announced that he understood exactly what the problem was and that under him the Commission would be transparent. Ask him anything you want and he will tell you. Not much has happened about that since and Statewatch, for one, has complained that things had not changed at all.

A few months ago the Wall Street Journal Europe decided to find out what sort of payments in money and in kind do Commissioners and employees of the Commission receive. So a journalist put in a request for information that is largely available in the United States and to some extent in the UK. The Commission's spokesperson was stunned. Nobody had asked that ever. But they eventually promised to do their best and did after several months send a 500 page document detailing what various employees of the Commission had received over and above their salaries and expenses. There was just one snag: every name had been blacked out. In other words, you are allowed to know what is being given and accepted but not who is accepting it. One is no nearer to finding out what the interests of Commission employees are. This is called the policy of "anonymization" and is effectively the new cover-up.

The journalists then found that to ask for the Commissioners' interests, outside payments and gifts, a separate request had to go in. The replies were similarly "anonymized". In fact, they were often non-existent, as the Commissioners had declared verbally that they had been given presents, money or holidays but there was no rule that they had to write it down anywhere. Gifts of any kind received on trips come under a separate heading and are not listed among all the other interests. After all, as Eric Mamer, the Commission spokesman on information issues, explained:

"What Commission officials [and, presumably, Commissioners] do in their own time is nobody's business."

Not even if that involves being wined and dined, taken on holiday and presented with gifts and pay cheques by various organizations and individuals.