Major Success for Clean Politics and Trust in European Democracy - European Parliament Supports EU Ethics Body
Overwhelming majority for better lobbying transparency in the European Parliament! Today (Thursday, 16 September), the European Parliament adopted the report on “Improving transparency and integrity in the EU institutions through the establishment of an independent EU ethics body”. The proposal by rapporteur Daniel Freund (Greens/EFA) received 377 votes in favour, 87 MEPs voted against, with 224 abstentions. Greens/EFA, Socialists, Liberals (Renew) and Left voted in favour. The Christian Democrats decided to abstain shortly before the German federal election, instead of rejecting the draft as they had previously done in the vote in the Constitutional Affairs Committee.
A nine-person ethics body of independent experts shall credibly enforce the rules against conflicts of interest, revolving door effects and corruption within the EU institutions in the future. The report calls on the EU Commission to draw up an inter-institutional agreement on the establishment of an EU ethics body. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has already promised her support and commissioned Vice-President Vera Jourová with this task.
Daniel Freund, European Parliament rapporteur for the ethics body and member of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs for the Greens/EFA Group comments:
“Today we celebrate a great success for Clean Politics in the European Union. The independent ethics body is a big step for stronger trust in European democracy. No one should ever get the impression that politics is for sale! The current system of self-monitoring is not strong enough to prevent scandals around conflicts of interest and revolving door effects.
The new ethics body can finally enforce the good European rules for lobby control in a credible way. Commissioners, MEPs and EU officials must be controlled by independent experts instead of their own colleagues. Parliament’s decision makes the new ethics body independent in its composition, gives it the right to launch its own investigations and publish its recommendations, thereby holding decision-makers accountable. With this assertiveness, the ethics body can gain credibility and prevent scandals that have plagued the European institutions for too long. The ethics body can therefore become a role model for lobby control in the EU.”
Christian Democrat amendments: rejected, fortunately
In three plenary amendments, the Christian Democrat EPP Group called for weakening the new body from the outset by limiting its investigative powers to the current agreement between the Commission and Parliament and delaying its role with regard to commissioner candidates.
The next step: The EU Commission drafts an inter-institutional agreement
Thursday’s vote is intended to establish the Parliament’s position. Next, we expect the Commission to draft an inter-institutional agreement (IIA) at least between the Commission and the Parliament, possibly also with the Council and open to the participation of other institutions. Once this IIA is negotiated and finalised, the ethics body can hopefully start its work before the end of this legislative term.
For a long time, non-governmental organisations like Transparency International (TI EU) and others, as well as we, the Greens/EFA group, have been calling for a more credible implementation of ethics rules. TI EU interviewed all EU top candidates and received their commitment to support the ethics body if elected. Daniel Freund had successfully written the EU Ethics Body into the Green Party's 2019 election manifesto. When the Greens/EFA group interviewed Ursula von der Leyen before her election as Commission President, we also received a commitment from her to support the ethics body. With Daniel Freund, a member of the Greens/EFA group has drafted and negotiated the report as rapporteur.
The ethics body provides independent oversight instead of the current system of institutional self-monitoring. In the EP, five MEPs selected by the EP President recommend how to deal with infringements at the moment; in the Commission, a former MEP, a former judge and a former senior Commission official are selected by the Commission President to do the same for her. The new ethics body would consist of nine independent members, e.g. former judges and ethics experts. No institution would select a majority, the EP selects three, the Commission another three and the last three come from courts and similar bodies. Direct colleagues of the persons concerned would no longer be eligible.
The new ethics body would initiate investigations on its own initiative and would no longer have to wait for the approval of the President of an institution, as is the case with the current bodies.
While the body cannot make its own decisions, its recommendations to the institution's decision-makers will be made public. No more proceedings can end in deadlock, as was the case in Parliament in the past.
Günther Oettinger (left office in 2019), former Commissioner for Energy (2010-2014), for Digital Economy and Society/Budget and Personnel (2014-2019) now has 17 new jobs, including for Deloitte, even though in his last full year in 2018 the Commission's obligations to Deloitte member firms amounted to €27m. Of these about €4 million were Oettinger's responsibility. Another job is at Herrenknecht AG, a company that profited massively from the Stuttgart 21 construction project, which was decided during his time as Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg.
Ádám Farkas (left in 2019), former executive director of the European Banking Authority (EBA until October 2019), then chief lobbyist of AFME (February 2020), the European association of major banks and capital market players. Permission to do so was rebuked by the EU Ombudsman and the European Parliament.
Reinald Krüger (on leave since 2018), former Head of the Regulatory Coordination and Markets Unit in the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (until April 2018), now Group Public Policy Development Director at Vodafone (since October 2018). Vodafone hired him explicitly for his "knowledge and skills in the field of regulation". A condition of permission is that he does not engage with European Commission staff for a period of one year, does not deal with matters directly related to his work at the Commission, and does not hold meetings of a professional nature with his former DG or service. However, he was seen "first at a debate organised by Vodafone in Brussels on the 'Internet of Things', then at a conference in Lisbon on 'The Future of Digital Policy from a Consumer Perspective' and finally at a conference for European regulators in Riga." The Commission argues that there would only have been a conflict of interest if Krüger had organised the events himself.