A penny for your thoughts: MEPs and the revolving door

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

L'assemblée plénière du Parlement européen © Parlement européen

Losing your seat in the elections can be a devastating blow for an MEP, but there can be a silver lining, especially if you were a member of a prominent parliamentary committee, writes Vicky Cann.

Vicky Cann is a campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, which runs the RevolvingDoorWatch project. Additional research by Margarida da Silva.

During the 2009-14 European parliamentary term, the economic and monetary affairs committee (ECON) scrutinised numerous pieces of technical legislation aimed at restoring faith in the EU’s ability to regulate the finance, investment, pension, and insurance industries in the wake of the economic and banking crises.

In the May 2014 elections, a number of these MEPs lost their seat or stepped down from the Parliament and some have now gone into new jobs with a strong connection to their old ECON role.

Top of the list is Sharon Bowles (UK, ALDE), the former chair of the committee, who is now a non-executive director at the major financial player the London Stock Exchange Group. At the time of her recruitment, the LSEG said: “Sharon brings extensive knowledge of European political and regulatory trends impacting our business. Her experience and insight will be of great value to the Group, as we operate in an increasingly complex and evolving regulatory environment.” Several MEPs expressed concern about Bowles’ speedy move (only a few weeks after the end of her public mandate). Sven Giegold, her fellow ECON member, said “Her swapping of sides is scandalous. It is bitter to see how she is selling her good reputation to the London Stock Exchange.”

Yet Bowles denied that there was any problem or any risk of conflicts of interest with her new appointment saying her “extensive regulatory knowledge will allow me to provide counsel and challenge the [LSEG] Executive management on how they are adapting their business to an evolving regulatory landscape”.

Bowles is not the only ex-MEP from ECON to go through the revolving door. Former vice-chair Arlene McCarthy (UK, S&D) has joined the UK lobby firm Sovereign Strategy as deputy chair for European strategy, a firm set up by another ex-Labour MEP. McCarthy has said: “Working with Sovereign Strategy, an experienced and effective global public affairs company, is a great opportunity for me to use the skills and expertise I have gained in twenty years of working on European policy and legislation.”

Meanwhile, Peter Skinner (UK, S&D) spent 15 years on ECON and was rapporteur on pensions and insurance rules. Now he has joined Allianz, the German insurance provider, as a senior advisor on EU/international relations, albeit with a self-imposed rule that “there [will] be a 12 month period where I will not be going to the EU institutions on behalf of Allianz.”

Corien Wortmann-Kool (Netherlands, EPP) is now a board member of insurance provider AEGON and chairman of the board of ABP,  one of the largest pension funds in the world with 2.8 million beneficiaries in the Dutch government, public and education sectors. ABP said at the time of her appointment: “She has great knowledge of the financial sector, is an experienced and powerful driver and also has a large network in Brussels and The Hague.”

Emilie Turunen (Denmark, S&D) was a substitute member on ECON, yet now she has joined Nykredit as head of public affairs. Nykredit is the largest mortgage lender in Denmark and also offers insurance, leasing, pension and estate agency services.

These cases are shocking, but ludicrously none have gone through any form of European parliamentary scrutiny. The revolving door rules in the MEP code of conduct are non-existent; there are no requirements to submit proposed new roles to the parliamentary authorities for authorisation (as commissioners must do); no cooling-off period on lobby or other problematic jobs; and no requirement to avoid the risk of conflicts of interest. Yet these former ex-MEPs are eligible to pocket generous “transitional allowances” equivalent to one month’s salary for every year they have been an MEP.

It is not just ECON members who have gone through the revolving door in recent months. RevolvingDoorWatch also features Martin Callanan (UK, ECR) who was previously a member of the committee on the environment, public health and food safety and is now a consultant to the Symphony Environmental Technologies Group. George Lyon (UK, ALDE) was a member of the agriculture and rural development committee and is now an agri-business senior consultant for lobby firm Hume Brophy. Graham Watson (UK, ALDE) has now set up his own consultancy firm which offers “strategic advice” to major lobby firm APCO. And there are others.

Many MEPs will need to accept new jobs once their public mandate ends. But in Corporate Europe Observatory’s view, reliance on MEPs’ own judgement about what is or is not an appropriate new role doesn’t work. It is not enough that MEPs face no external scrutiny of their new roles and yet continue to receive substantial payments from the public purse. Regulating the revolving door for MEPs is urgent and should form an essential element of any future reform of the MEP code of conduct.

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