Daniel Freund

31. March 2023 Anti-Corruption

Report: EU Commission weakens and delays independent control of lobbying rules

Contrary to Vice-President Vera Jourova’s promise, the EU Commission will not present its proposal for an independent EU Ethics Body in March after all. According to a spokesperson of the EU Commission, the delay will apparently last “several weeks”. The control and enforcement of anti-corruption and lobbying rules in the EU institutions by an independent ethics body will thus be further delayed. The European Parliament had already made a clear proposal in September 2021 – one and a half years ago – and called on the Commission to negotiate.


Much more serious, however, is the fact that the Commission’s proposal will probably have little to do with a real supervisory body. According to information from “Politico”, the Commission only has a body in mind that is supposed to harmonise the ethics rules in the EU institutions. Concrete cases are not to be investigated and sanctioned.


MEP Daniel Freund (Greens), the European Parliament’s rapporteur for an independent EU ethics body, comments:

“It is worrying that the EU Commission apparently wants to gut the ethics body. The EU institutions are welcome to talk about common standards. What we really need is enforcement of the existing rules. This is the only way we can effectively fight corruption in the EU institutions. The emerging proposal basically means: the failed system of self-regulation would remain in place. “


“The EU institutions urgently need an independent control of lobbying and anti-corruption rules. It is irresponsible for the EU Commission to further delay the launch of an ethics body. The recent scandal about the free flights of Director General Hololei clearly shows that even the EU Commission is not immune to breaches of rules by its officials and should have a strong interest in independently investigating such incidents.”


Politico Influence on the foreseeable Commission proposal: https://www.politico.eu/newsletter/politico-eu-influence/nose-dive-for-corporate-reputations-ryanair-revolving-door-missed-deadlines-2/


The foreseeable Commission proposal contradicts the previous Commission position

In February 2022, the EU Commission found the standardisation of ethics rules among EU institutions, the new main objective of the Ethics Body, wrong. It commented on the Parliament’s proposal: “The resolution calls for the currently applicable ethical framework of each institution to continue to apply and for the body to issue recommendations on that basis. The Commission agrees on that point and recalls its support for a body that does not imply the adoption of new ethical rules in the institutions or the adoption of a single set of ethical rules applicable to all institutions. Such unified rules would not be able to reflect the differences between the roles and status of the different institutions and their members.”

On 8 September 2022, the European Commission invited the other EU institutions to a technical level exchange on the ethics body. Participants in the technical meeting also recall that the focus was on the application of existing rules to concrete cases, not mainly on the standardisation of rules.

On 12 December 2022, Ursula von der Leyen commented on the Katargate scandal at the midday briefing and suddenly said: “For us it is very critical to not only have strong rules but the same rules also, covering all institutions and not to allow for any sort of exemptions. It’s a matter of transparency, a set of very clear rules and all EU institutions should abide by the same set of rules.”


Prominent scandals show that the Commission’s self-regulation does not work

Henrik Hololei, Director General of DG Move, accepted an invitation to luxury flights to Qatar while his department was negotiating an agreement with the country. He declares no lobby meetings for more than 9 days stay in the country. He had certified himself to have no conflict of interest in accepting the invitation, which cost several thousand euros. The Commission defends the operation as completely within the rules, until it suddenly changes the rules and Hololei changes jobs. https://danielfreund.eu/kommissions-direktor-genehmigt-sich-freifluege-mit-qatar-airways/

Dimitris Avramopoulos, former Home Affairs Commissioner, asked for permission to be a paid lobbyist for the organisation “Fight Impunity”, the organisation through which ex MEP Panzeri is alleged to have bribed EP Vice-President Eva Kaili. Although the organisation is not registered and thus its finances are not transparent, the Commission’s ethics panel approves the connection activity solely on the basis of Avramopoulos’ statements that the organisation’s finances are okay and that it will still register. Although the organisation never registers, this only comes to light when the press asks questions in the scandal. https://danielfreund.eu/ethics-control-of-the-eu-commission-failed-in-the-case-of-the-ngo-that-allegedly-bribed-ep-vice-president-eva-kaili/?lang=en

Neelie Kroes, former digital commissioner among other things, asks after the end of her mandate if she is allowed to work for Uber. She is signalled that the answer will be no because of the foreseeable conflict of interest. But she withdraws the request and works for Uber anyway. The scandal only became public when a whistleblower published the Uber files. For months, the anti-corruption agency OLAF has been investigating the case. Despite the obvious violation of the rules, the EU Commission is still waiting. https://danielfreund.eu/eu-commissioner-lobbied-for-uber/?lang=en

What we really need is enforcement of the existing rules. This is the only way we can effectively fight corruption in the EU institutions.