Over two dozen former MEPs who left office in the 2014 European Parliament election are now employed lobbying EU institutions, benefiting from the lack of rules to prevent conflicts of interest, Transparency International said in a report released Tuesday.
The NGO tracked down 485 former MEPs who weren’t re-elected in 2014 to find out what they were doing now. Fifty-one work for organizations on the EU’s lobby register, and 26 of those are employed by consultancies that advise companies on how to lobby EU institutions, according to the report.
“There’s nothing wrong with politicians moving to the private sector after leaving office, but there is an issue with those who one minute are drawing up EU laws and the next are lobbying their former colleagues on the exact same issues,” said Daniel Freund, head of advocacy at Transparency. “We need sensible rules to prevent conflicts of interest or the capture of the institutions by lobbyists.”
One example noted by the NGO is that of Sharon Bowles, the former chair of the Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. She now works part-time at Afore Consulting, which counts among its clients Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank, according to the EU’s transparency register.
Nickolas Reinhardt, Afore’s director, rejected any suggestion that this amounted to a conflict of interest, arguing that Bowles’ title — “strategic counsel” — was “carefully chosen so as to convey that her role is one of giving a high-level strategic overview,” not advising or lobbying.
“We do not ask Sharon to work for clients directly,” he said. “Neither Sharon Bowles nor Afore Consulting foresee her in a lobbying role or engaging with MEPs other than in the context of round-table discussions where there are many others present.”
Another MEP who worked for around a decade on environmental standards, Holger Krahmer, is now a lobbyist at the car manufacturing firm Opel. Nine others — Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Wolf Klinz, Krzysztof Lisek, Olle Schmidt, George Lyon, Brian Simpson, Arlene McCarthy, Graham Watson and Marije Cornelissen — work independently as consultants or for companies like FIPRA International, Cabinet DN and Hume Brophy, Transparency International said.
MEPs have previously criticized former European commissioners for taking up lobbying roles after leaving the EU’s executive branch, most notably in the case of former Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who joined Goldman Sachs, and former Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes, hired by Uber as a senior advisor on regulatory issues.
Transparency International’s research highlights the absence of a cooling-off period or restrictions around the sorts of jobs MEPs can accept after they’ve left office, even if they’re accepting a so-called transitional allowance, worth a maximum of two years’ salary. This is despite the fact MEPs’ assistants are banned for two years from lobbying jobs, according to EU staff regulations.
MEPs last year rejected a blanket ban on sitting members of the house from having second jobs, but did agree to a ban on MEPs working as paid professional lobbyists.
Some 177 MEPs receive income from “outside activities,” although these include public office positions as well as those involving business interests. Thirty-two MEPs — most of whom belong to the center-right European People’s Party and the ALDE group — describe their outside activities as “lawyer,” “consultant” or “freelancer,” according to Transparency International’s EU Integrity Watch.
The rules are tougher for European Commissioners, who must notify their former employer about any new jobs they take. If the executive has concerns about possible conflicts of interest, the appointment is scrutinized by an ad hoc ethics committee made up of three individuals appointed by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
That said, the current Commission has so far not opposed any appointments, in part, the report suggests, because commissioners are worried about their own future job prospects.
Some countries have imposed tough rules to deal with conflict of interest concerns. In Canada, politicians and officials are banned from becoming lobbyists for up to five years, depending on their position and powers while in office. Two commissioners — with a combined budget worth €8 million and a staff of 75 — enforce the rules and can sanction any individual caught violating them.
“Lax ethics rules and a lack of enforcement erode trust in the EU institutions,” said Freund. “If the EU wants to defend itself against increasing nationalistic, populist and Euroskeptic forces, then it needs to prove itself as a global leader in integrity and transparency.”
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This story was corrected to clarify that MEPs can no longer work as paid professional lobbyists.