Lawmakers tighten EU Parliament rules, but fail to ban all second jobs

Martin Schulz won many admirers during his time as Parliament president. [Shutterstock]

After two years of intense horse-trading, MEPs approved on Tuesday (13 December) a set of reforms to make the European Parliament more efficient and transparent, but limited the scope of banning second jobs to those who actually influence decision-making.

“Our institution will be more democratic, more transparent and much more efficient,” Labour MEP Richard Corbett (S&D) said, calling it a balanced and reasonable reform.

“This new step forward will rationalise the work of the European Parliament and will benefit the European citizens,” the British lawmaker said.

The changes, which will enter into force in January, are a step in the right direction after the recent scandals involving Commissioner Günther Oettinger and former Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

Even though not exhaustive, MEPs will now have to lead by example after baying for more scrutiny over Commissioners’ conflict of interests.

The recasting of the rules of procedure, approved by 548 votes to 145, include more stringent rules on members’ financial interests, tougher penalties for misbehaving parliamentarians, simpler rules on the composition of committees and increased rationalisation of voting thresholds.

Only lobbying side activities ditched

However, MEPs will still be allowed to do two or three jobs, except as lobbyists. A considerable number of lawmakers, 170 according to Integrity Watch, currently maintain remunerated side activities while working as elected representatives.

Currently, nothing prevents an MEP from, for example, sitting on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), while at the same time being on the board of an energy company.

“At a time of disenchantment with electoral-representative democracy and growing distrust for the EU, one might expect virtually all MEPs to agree: a Parliament without outside interests would make a stronger, more legitimate Parliament,”  said Alberto Alemanno, a professor at HEC Paris.

Up to now, MEPs could do a wide array of second jobs, except those in public office, such as parliamentary and governmental jobs at national level and top jobs in the EU, such as Commissioners, judges, Advocate General of the CJEU, members of the Court of Auditors, members of the Board of Directors of the ECB, members of the EESC and CoR, and EU Ombudsman.

Almost half of French MEPs have second jobs

30 out of France’s 74 MEPs have sources of income besides their elected mandates, according to the French High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (HATVP). EURACTIV.fr reports.

Corbett, who had asked the Parliament’s Legal Service to come up with an opinion to ban all second jobs, told the press in Strasbourg that completely prohibiting side activities could only be done by changing legislation.

“We have seized what we could within the grey zone,” Corbett explained.

The new rule prohibiting MEPs from engaging in paid professional lobbying directly linked to the Union decision-making process is likely to reveal inadequacies, according to Alemanno.

“This is true for at least two reasons – he added – the scope of this provision appears quite narrow and difficult to define and, in any event, its enforcement will remain entirely at the discretion of the next president of the European Parliament.”

Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur Max Andersson concurred that a stronger system for policing and sanctioning against wrongdoing for both the Parliament and the Commission was needed.

“Conflicts of interest must be independently examined and we are going to continue to fight for stronger regulation and more transparency when it comes to lobbying and conflicts of interest,” he added.

Think twice before you speak

The main novelty of the revision is the strengthening of the sanctions in the event of non-compliance with the rules of conduct.

“More and more, we are witnessing aberrant and intolerable situations within our institution, and we must give the president the means to face them. The president may now decide to delete from the audiovisual recording those parts of a speech which contain defamatory, racist or xenophobic remarks so that their author can no longer take advantage of them on social networks,” said Charles Goerens, ALDE spokesperson on the Committee on Constitutional Affairs.

MEPs using foul language or disrupting the smooth running of the parliamentary agenda will see their daily allowance limited to a maximum of 30 days, and a temporary suspension of participation in Parliament activities other than the right to vote in plenary from two to 30 days.

On top of that, misbehaving lawmakers may be prohibited from representing Parliament in interparliamentary delegations or conferences and international forums for up to one year.

In the most serious cases, the president may even go so far as to withdraw one or more posts held by the MEP.

Prima donna MEPs

Lawmakers also improved the efficiency of parliamentary work by limiting the number of written questions, motions for resolutions and requests for roll-call votes.

Written questions, which had reached the excessive and ineffective level of 60,000 per year, will now be limited to 20 per member over a three month period. Some members abused their right to ask questions to the Commission just to be on top of the ranking, complained Corbett.

“The administrative costs of answering bogus question came to disadvantage proper queries,” added Corbett, noting the new rule of granting 20 questions is still more than what national parliaments offer.

Positions

Speaking at the plenary, German MEP and GUE/NGL shadow on the Corbett report, Helmut Scholz, was adamant this new code of conduct is counterproductive and undemocratic:

“After two years of work by the working group, we’ve come up with over 1400 amendments but this is simply being waived through without discussion.”

“Despite the openness of the working process, it is still unsatisfactory because all of it was overshadowed by a power struggle between the larger and smaller groups.”

“The Rules of Procedure are a constitution in all but name for our house. It sets out the framework for our work and duty as parliamentarians, just as our founding fathers had desired to create a platform for democracy - not limit it,” said Scholz.

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