MEPs have responded to the recent conflicts of interest concerning members of the Barroso Commission by freezing part of the allowance granted to former Commissioners at the end of their mandate. EURACTIV France reports.
The European Parliament has spoken out against the “bad conduct” of former members of the European Commission. Tired of waiting for the EU executive to offer a firm response to the Neelie Kroes, Connie Hedegaard and José Manuel Barroso affairs, EU lawmakers took matters into their own hands and suspended part of the allowance received by former Commissioners.
This, they hope, will encourage Brussels to take action against such conflicts of interest by toughening the code of conduct for Commissioners, which they see as too relaxed.
Strengthening the code of conduct
“Everyone agrees that the European Commission should make serious proposals to strengthen the code of conduct for Commissioners and lengthen their cooling-off period,” said French Green MEP Pascal Durand.
The ‘cooling-off period’ is the time during which former Commissioners are required to inform the executive if they accept a new job. Under the current rules, this period is 18 months, but MEPs recommended it be extended to a minimum of two years.
And they are willing hold the Commissioners’ pensions hostage in order to achieve the change they want.
“We want to oblige the Commission to act in return for access to the budget reserved for former Commissioners’ allowances,” said Durand.
The amendment submitted by the Parliament’s Green group specified that the Commission must “enforce a stricter code of conduct for Commissioners to prevent conflicts of interest and revolving doors”. It was adopted by a large majority on 26 October.
“Awareness among MEPs has improved. No political group opposed this proposal or even abstained from the vote, not even the National Front,” the Green MEP added.
Adopted as part of the 2017 EU budget, the proposal freezes around half a million euros earmarked for former Commissioners’ pensions in 2017.
This will directly affect Barroso, Kroes and Hedegaard, whose conflicts of interest with the private sector have brought the Barroso Commission into disrepute.
In recent months, former Commission President Barroso accepted a job at the American merchant bank Goldman Sachs, while former digital Commissioner Kroes joined Uber and was implicated in the Bahamas Leaks scandal. The final blow to the executive’s credibility came when former climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard took a job at Volkswagen.
But since the “transitional” allowance is paid over a period of three years, the freeze will only have a minimal impact on members of the previous Commission, whose mandate ended in November 2014.
Those most affected will be members of the current Commission that quit their post mid-mandate.
This applies to former UK Commissioner Jonathan Hill, who resigned after British vote to leave the European Union, and Bulgarian Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, who announced her resignation on Friday (28 October), to take a job at the World Bank.
Commission dragging its feet
But the European Commission seems reluctant to review the code of conduct.
At a Parliament’s debate on conflicts of interest in early October, Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici brushed aside calls to strengthen the rules, saying they were already among the toughest he knew of.
One of the executive’s main arguments is the existence of Article 245 in the EU Treaty, which stipulates that Commissioners must “behave with integrity and discretion” at the end of their mandate.