Ex-commissioners face conflict of interest accusations


Transparency International, an international NGO which fights corruption, expressed "strong concern" after four former commissioners in the Barroso I executive had accepted positions in the private sector.

A fierce integrity debate flared up when Benita Ferrero-Waldner of Austria, who held the external relations portfolio in the Barroso I Commission, Germany's Günter Verheugen (enterprise and industry), Ireland's Charlie McCreevy (internal market) and Bulgaria's Meglena Kuneva (consumer protection), assumed corporate jobs.

The companies involved may profit from the former roles of their new employees, having hired them less than a year after they had left office at the European Commission, alleges a Transparency International (TI) press release.

The European Commission's Code of Conduct stipulates that former commissioners may not assume roles related to their previous portfolios for a period of at least a year, TI recalls.

McCreevy was recently appointed to a position at low-cost Irish airline Ryanair. Ferrero-Waldner was reportedly appointed to the supervisory board of German re-insurance company Munich Re. According to press reports, Verheugen has joined British bank Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), while Kuneva was approved as a management board member at BNP Paribas, a French bank.

Kuneva has also reportedly accepted a part-time position as political counsellor to EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas. She was quoted by Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner in Bulgaria, as saying that she would divide her time between Brussels and Sofia.

In the meantime, an ad-hoc ethical committee at the European Commission has approved McCreevy's appointment, while decisions regarding Verheugen and Kuneva are expected in the coming weeks, TI says.

The committee, however, lacks formal criteria on which to base its judgements, the NGO points out. These shortcomings were illustrated in a recent independent study commissioned by the European Parliament's budgetary control committee.

The organisation is demanding a review of the Code of Conduct for Commissioners. It wants to see the introduction of a cooling-off period of at least two years, and a more transparent procedure to assess whether post-office employment is compatible with former Commission duties.

More stringent enforcement is also proposed, such as withholding pensions from commissioners in breach of the code, as well as referring to national sanctions where ethical conduct infringes national or civil law.

"Transparency International's intentions in general are honorable," Dr. Andreas Geiger of law firm Alber & Geiger told EURACTIV.

"But to keep credibility, TI should be honest here," he continued, declaring: "TI criticises former officials for taking up jobs with the industry. But TI makes use of exactly the same kind of people on its own board. So TI is entitled to make use of the 'revolving door' while industry is not? That seems a little biased," Dr. Geiger said, drawing attention to TI's board of directors. "The chairwoman herself was in government," he said.

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