MEPs approve new code of conduct

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The European Parliament approved yesterday (1 December) a new code conduct tightening rules on MEPs’ financial declarations and their contacts with lobbyists to avoid any perception of conflict of interest.

“The new Code of Conduct for MEPs will be a strong shield against unethical behaviour. The code's guiding principle is transparency. The Code of Conduct is a major improvement on the status quo and is the first-ever Code of Conduct for MEPs," said European President Jerzy Buzek.

Many scandals have hit the parliament in recent years. This year's bribery affair, in which at least four MEPs were caught on video by a Sunday Times reporter posing as a lobbyist, sparked a wave of criticism. It resulted in the resignations of Slovenian centre-left MEP Zoran Thaler and centre-right Austrian MEP Ernst Strasser. A third MEP, Romanian centre-left Adrian Severin, refused to resign but was expelled from the S&D group. 

Under the the new rules, MEPs will have to report any outside activity for which they earn more than €5,000 per year and must refuse gifts worth more than €150. They also have  publicly declare all professional activities for the three years preceding their election. 

Financial support of any nature and any financial interest that may cause a conflict of interests will also have to be disclosed. Any change to the declaration must be notified within 30 days and in the event of failure, the member will no longer be eligible to hold offices within Parliament.

According to the new rules, the President of the Parliament, after having consulted an advisory committe, can decide to sanction MEPs that breach the code.

The sanctions range from a forfeiture of the daily allowance from two up to ten days, temporary suspension from Parliament's activities (not including the right to vote) for a maximum of 10 days, or the loss of the role of rapporteur or other elected offices within Parliament.  Any such sanctions will be published on Parliament's web site.

"Increased power of the European Parliament must be accompanied by increased responsibility and transparency on behalf of its members.  Today is the second anniversary of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty – it is an excellent day to adopt the Code – more power means more responsibility, "Buzek ended.

"The wide consensus expressed by MEPs on the new code of conduct has a symbolic meaning that cannot be ignored. It proves to the public opinion that the European Parliament is a transparent body to serve common good and build a Europe based on freedom and justice. It also shows the renewed commitment by MEPs towards the community that elected them" said Constitutional Affairs Committee chair and rapporteur Carlo Casini (EPP, IT), before the vote. 

The impact of these sanctions will not be negligible, said British Liberal MEP Diana Wallis, noting that any breach of the code will be posted in "flashing red" on the parliament's website for all constituents to see.

"There is a growing gap between the public and the parliament, especially now with the economic crisis. We wanted to show that not all politicians are crooks, that there are morals and ethics in politics," Czech centre-left MEP Libor Roucek said.

During the course of an eight-month investigation, journalists from the Sunday Times posing as lobbyists contacted some 60 MEPs to test their ethics.

The reporters wanted to verify allegations that some politicians were prepared "to sell their services" to push through specific amendments to EU legislation in exchange for remuneration, the broadsheet revealed on Sunday (20 March).

 

  • 1 Jan. 2012: New rules will enter into force after the Parliament's Bureau lays down measures for implementing it and introduce a monitoring procedure. 

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