MEPs have voted to delay approving the way in which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) spent EU funds in 2010 over concerns about possible conflicts of interest within the body and the high costs of its management board meetings.
The European Parliament yesterday backed a decision made by its Budgetary Control committee in April to “postpone the discharge” – or sign off - EFSA’s budget spend in 2010. The Parma-based agency received EU funding of just under €73m for the year.
EFSA said it remained committed to transparency and vowed to continue working with Strasbourg to resolve the issue.
Conflict of interest
The MEP committee report last month censured EFSA over what it considered a conflict of interest by the then management board chair, Diána Bánáti, because of her links to the food industry.
In September 2010, she was found not to have declared her membership of the board of directors of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) – a trade body funded by food, pharmaceutical and chemical companies.
The committee said: “While a dialogue with industry on product assessment methodologies is legitimate and necessary, this dialogue should not undermine the independence of the Authority nor the integrity of risk assessment procedures.”
Earlier this week, EFSA asked Bánáti to resign her post as management board chair the day after she announced taking up a paid role at ILSI. The agency said working for the industry body was “not compatible with her role as member and Chair of the EFSA Management Board”.
The parliamentary committee also expressed its disapproval that each meeting of EFSA’s 15-strong management board in 2010 had cost an average of €92,630 – or €6,175 per person.
The amount was nearly three times higher than the second most expensive management board of a decentralised agency, it said.
Labelling the amounts “unacceptable” and “excessive”, the committee said the costs should be drastically reduced and called on EFSA to present a remedy by 30 June.
Monica Macovei, the Romanian MEP leading on the matter, called on the European Union hierarchy to overhaul the way management board members are appointed at decentralized agencies.
“Conflict of interests must be a criteria in the discharge procedure for all EU Institutions. If they are not correctly managed, conflict of interests can distort the allocation of financial and human resources, cause a waste of public funds and weaken the citizens' trust,” she warned.
Strasbourg, which also postponed approving the 2010 budgets for the EU Medicines Agency and Environment Agency, said a final decision on the budget delay would be taken in autumn 2012.
EFSA committed to transparency
The food safety watchdog said it remained committed to transparency in its operations.
“The European Food Safety Authority respectfully takes note of the decision taken today by the European Parliament to postpone the Authority’s 2010 budgetary discharge,” it said in a statement. “EFSA understands that in voting for a postponement, the European Parliament is seeking reassurance on some specific points. In upholding its commitment to transparency, EFSA will continue to work with the European Parliament in the coming months.”