“The Commission has rules on conflict of interest which were applied in this case and in accordance with Article 11 of the Staff Regulations, Ms Mettler filled in the required declaration.”
Day then added that as a result of the Commission's assessment of this declaration, Mettler gave up the positions that could be perceived as leading to a conflict of interests. Further, she declared that:
“The Commission did not see any reason to exclude particular organisations from the outreach and communication activities which constitute one of the core tasks of the EPSC. However, in order to avoid any possible perception of conflict of interest, Ms Mettler will not be involved in tender procedures which have any connection or link with the Lisbon Council. Furthermore, all events organised by the EPSC with external stakeholders (including information on the agenda, list of speakers and main outcomes) will be published on the EPSC website, which is currently being developed. The Commission has thus availed itself of the necessary measures to avoid any appearance of a risk of conflict of interest with the previous roles of Ms Mettler.”
Before joining the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), Ann Mettler was mostly known for her work on promoting innovation and the digital economy as the executive director and co-founder of the Lisbon Council, a “Brussels-based think tank and policy network” set up in 2003. She complemented this position with her role as vice-chair of the Global Agenda Council on Europe of the World Economic Forum.
The Juncker Commission announced on 1 December 2014 that Mettler was now to head the EPSC, the newly created “in-house think tank” that is to provide strategic analysis to the President. The EPSC was set up to replace the former Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA).
According to the Commission's press release on the appointment:
“Ms Mettler's long experience in strategic analysis and sound expertise in digital and innovation aspects of economic reform, will enable the Commission's European Political Strategy Centre to play a key role in advising the President and the College on matters related to the Commission's political priorities. Her experience will also help boost relations between the European Commission and decision-makers, think tanks and civil society at large.”
Indeed, through the Lisbon Council, Mettler has been very active in promoting the digital economy, innovation and entrepreneurship. According to the group's website, it
“is dedicated to making a positive contribution through cutting-edge research and by engaging political leaders and the public at large in a constructive exchange about the economic and social challenges of the 21st century”.
The Lisbon Council promotes its position by publishing position papers and hosting conferences and networking events. For instance, in 2013, it published the “Plan I(nnovation) for Europe: Delivering Innovation-Led, Digitally-Powered Growth”, co-authored by Mettler and launched at an event attended by Herman Van Rompuy, then still president of the European Council.
There is a significant overlap between the Lisbon Council's priorities and the Commission's programme for the Digital Economy. The “Plan I(nnovation) for Europe” report, for instance, called for the EU to “[c]reate a single market where digital businesses and technology-navvy entrepreneurs can thrive”. For that, it recommended harmonising regulations and creating a “new, low regulation corporate structure for EU digital businesses”.
Under its Digital Economy programme, the Commission has committed to “work to create opportunities for European businesses who want to take advantage of digital technologies and to enhance the business landscape", noting that the “development of a Digital Single Market is still hindered by a number of legal, technical and trust barriers in EU countries that prevent entrepreneurs from developing new businesses or growing their businesses in Europe.”
According to the Lisbon Council's entry in the Transparency Register, in 2013 (most recent data available)its total budget was more than €1 million. A grant from the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency of the European Commission (EACEA) accounted for €200,000 its revenue. Other funders were the Permanent Representation of Denmark to the European Union, and nine companies: Google, IBM, HP, Oracle, Philips, Telefónica, Accenture, Berenberg and Kapp Netherlands.
Regrettably, when the Lisbon Council updated its transparency register entry in March 2015, it did not use the more recent list of financial supporters available on its website. There it lists the support it received in 2014-15 including from the EU's Horizon 2020 programme and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA).
The Lisbon Council's website and its entry in the transparency register assure that it “is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan association” and that “[s]upport for the Lisbon Council’s activities does not constitute endorsement of any statement, view or initiative of the Lisbon Council or any of its associates.” However, all of its acknowledged financial supporters have clear stakes in the digital and technology market, most of them working in the digital or technology market. Furthermore, its advisory board includes representatives from Accenture, Philips and IBM.
“first-of-its kind think tank dedicated to empowering tech entrepreneurs and growing Europe’s digital economy. The European Digital Forum gives a voice in public policy to the continent’s most enterprising and innovative entrepreneurs.”
This forum was set up by the European Commission and the Startup Europe Partnership but is administered by the Lisbon Council in partnership with Nesta UK. Interestingly, there is a big overlap between the Lisbon Council's funders and the founding partners of both Startup Europe Partnership - BBVA and Telefonica - and European Digital Forum - BBVA, Telefonica and Accenture.
Mettler complemented these positions as executive director of the Lisbon Council and at EDF with her role as vice-chair of the Global Agenda Council on Europe of the World Economic Forum. Here she sat on the same board as several corporate representatives, including the global managing director of Accenture who also sits on the Lisbon Council's advisory board.
Shortly after Mettler's appointment to the EPSC was announced, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) submitted a request for access documents relating to Mettler's new position and how the Commission had dealt with possible conflicts of interest. This request was rejected by the European Commission's secretariat general arguing that “[a]ny such document would contain personal data relating to Ms Mettler. Such disclosure would therefore violate the privacy and the integrity of the individual concerned.”
“As part of the recruitment procedure and as for any candidate to be potentially recruited by the European Commission, Ms Mettler had to declare any potential conflict of interest. (...) While no current conflict of interest has been identified, the situation is being ring-fenced to avoid even any appearance of conflicts of interest in the future.” You can read the Commission's full reply here.
“once engaged, [candidates] must cease any activities which might be perceived as leading to a conflict of interest. In line with these principles, Ms Mettler has given up her position as Vice-chair of the Global Agenda Council on Europe.”
Day also highlighted that:
“The Commission did not see any reason to exclude particular organisations from the outreach and communication activities which constitute one of the core tasks of the EPSC. However, in order to avoid any possible perception of conflict of interest, Ms Mettler will not be involved in tender procedures which have any connection or link with the Lisbon Council. Furthermore, all events organised by the EPSC with external stakeholders (including information on the agenda, list of speakers and main outcomes) will be published on the EPSC website, which is currently being developed. ”
You can read Day's full reply here.
So far, Mettler's published meeting register shows that she has already met with two actors from her previous professional network: Xavier Damman, co-founder of Storify and a member of the Lisbon Council's advisory board; and unnamed representatives from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation where Mettler was an affiliated expert.
“CEO has significant concerns about the handling of the appointment of Ann Mettler to such a senior Commission position. We consider that to address the risk of possible conflicts of interest, the Commission should always assess the previous professional positions and work relationships, including employers, clients and funders, where they relate to a new official's function. Whilst the Commission argues that it has established adequate safeguards, CEO questions that, considering the overlap between Mettler's new role and her background at the Lisbon Council and EDF, and the associated networks of corporate funders, advisory board members, and partners. The Commission should implement far more robust conflict of interest assessments, especially for appointees with the ear of President Juncker.”