Sylvie Goulard’s example illustrates the kind of behaviour which has become unacceptable for European citizens. Europe needs to elevate its conflicts of interest assessment procedure and strictly regulate external activities, writes Manon Aubry.
Manon Aubry is Co-President of the European United Left / Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament.
With heightened mistrust between European citizens and EU institutions, more than ever, we need leaders above suspicion. However, the European Parliament’s recent process of scrutiny over the future college of Commissioners paints a tragic picture. The good news? We can fix it.
Failures in the process of screening for conflicts of interest and, more generally, of ethical scrutiny over Commissioners-designate were plain for all to see in recent weeks. While we welcome the historical precedent in the rejection of two Commission nominees by Parliament’s Legal Affairs committee, we should no longer tolerate the double standards that prevented scrutiny of other candidates.
How did Sylvie Goulard get off the hook on her €10,000+ monthly in remuneration from the Berggruen Institute while she was an MEP? Why were no recommendations made over Josep Borell’s half a million euro in shares, including in such giants of pharma, banking and fossil fuels as Bayer, BBVA and Iberdrola? Why were no guarantees asked of Paolo Gentiloni and Johannes Hahn to make sure they sold their shares in Amazon, LVMH, Reiffeisen bank or Verbund? Because the procedure is flawed.
Three major issues require our attention. First, MEP’s current remit to look into conflicts of interest is too narrow, meaning we cannot query envelopment in corruption and judicial cases, and we have no information on banking, debts and other financial interests. Then there is the problem of unverifiable information: we have no way of scrutinising the information declared in the timeframes given. Finally, politicisation – throughout the process, each political group protects its own and attacks its adversaries, meaning those in charge of screening for conflicts of interest thus have their own.
In short, we badly need to elevate the conflicts of interest assessment procedure.
Such problems are by no means new in the Brussels bubble and similar issues arise after mandates are over. For instance, Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who is set to leave his job at the end of the month, has already set up his own lobbying company, after successive stints in charge of the energy, digital and budget portfolios since 2010. Such extensive experience, networks and familiarity is extraordinarily valuable (and marketable) to future clients and current rules to regulate those cases are largely a paper tiger.
To solve all these problems, the proposal we are putting on the table this week involves the creation of an independent ethics body. Such a body would need enough time, means, and an adequate mandate to enable serious scrutiny prior, during, and after the mandate to avoid the revolving doors problem that has become common practice. It would also have to be independent and could be composed of existing authorities (such as the European Ombudsman) and competent persons elected with a broad enough majority to avoid political instrumentalisation.
Lastly, it must establish ethical norms, for instance concerning external sources of remuneration during a term of office. Sylvie Goulard’s example illustrates the kind of behaviour which has become unacceptable for European citizens. Those external activities must be strictly regulated, in terms of type of role and revenue cap.
It’s now or never. MEPs must face their responsibilities, put ethics before money, and draw a line under this weak, ineffectual, and frankly embarrassing, system. This is about nothing less than bringing democracy back to the heart of Europe. Let’s give the Commission the scrutiny it warrants and offer citizens the representation they deserve.