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The Berlaymont Papers: That’s Key Commission Thinking?

“BEPA has developed the concept of the ‘Berlaymont Papers‘ which will make available to a wider public some of the key thinking going on within the service. The first issue of the ‘Berlaymont Papers’, building on the Workshop on the Arab Spring organised with IFRI, was released in January 2012. A second one, on European think tanks, is planned for March/April.”

Although it may sound obvious, ‘BEPA’ is not the abbreviation of BErlaymont PApers, BEPA is the Bureau of European Policy Advisers, an ignored quasi-Directorate General of the European Commission.

I stumble upon this BEPA once in a while, but I never really understood what it was for. It’s some kind of talking shop, but I don’t know why it is there. So I read their annual activity report for 2011, from which I have taken the quote above. After reading their activity report I still don’t know what they are doing besides organising conferences, commissioning studies and contributing to all kinds of dialogues and speeches.

Yet, the concept of ‘Berlaymont Papers” sounded kind of fascinating, at least interesting. So I googled and I found two of these famous yet unknown ‘Berlaymont Papers’:

  • Arab springs and transitions in the Southern Mediterranean: The EU and civil societies one year on (PDF, January 2012)
  • European Think Tanks and the EU (PDF, September 2012)

The first thing you notice is that the the second paper announced for March/April in the Annual Activity Report has made it into September, just 5-6 months late. If that’s the speed of BEPA’s ‘key thinking’, you don’t have to wonder about anything.

The second thing you notice is that, when you read through both papers, you wonder whether this is actually the “key thinking” going on behind the scenes of BEPA. It’s actually not the most refreshing prose and the key thinking produced reads like this:

“The most recent arrival [among Think Tanks, RP] in town is the London-based “Open Europe” think tank, which may also be seen as a harbinger of a less consensual debate on (and less mainstream approach to) European integration.”

Is that the compromise description for a think tank that didn’t even make it into the list of European think tanks in a publication that has 37 of them, 28 of which are not even in the EU Transparency Register according to BEPA’s research, while Open Europe is? Are the key thinkers and advisers of the European Commission ignoring any think tank the opinion of which cannot be re-interpreted as Commission priorities? Or did Open Europe refuse to be listed?

And an even more interesting question: Is it  “key thinking” to produce a table of 37 think tanks dumped into a PDF document? If BEPA would have 21st century advisers for the European Commission, they would not have produced a table buried in a PDF document but would have made the data available in a re-usable open data format. But for that, BEPA would maybe have to take advice from actual Commission services. I suppose that is too much to ask.

This is how I see it: If the ‘Berlaymont Papers’ were actually meant to share the “key thinking” of the key Commission advisers with a wider public, they would be published on a regularly updated blog, not twice a year in a PDF. And if BEPA were actually useful advisers, they would know that. But maybe I’m thinking to easy here.


Disclaimer: I work for TI EU and issues like the Transparency Register are part of this work, directly and indirectly. This blog post – like any post on this blog – is however written in my private capacity. Opinions expressed are obviously my private opinions.

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