New documents on revolving door show urgency of stricter rules for ex-Commissioners

27 September 2010

Brussels, 27 September 2010 - The ALTER-EU civil society coalition today called for the introduction of three-year cooling-off period for former Commissioners, and urged the EU Commission to block the new jobs for former Commissioners Charlie McCreevy and Gunter Verheugen because of conflicts of interest.

Following the controversy surrounding six former EU Commissioners who have taken up employment in the private sector[1], the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation in the EU (ALTER-EU) today published documents showing that the European Commission's existing checks are inadequate and fail to prevent conflicts of interest.

ALTER-EU is calling on the Commission to re-examine the current employment of ex-Commissioners Verheugen, McCreevy, and the four others, and to swiftly introduce a stricter Code of Conduct for Commissioners, including a three-year cooling-off period during which former Commissioners are not allowed to take up any post that might constitute a conflict of interest with their former work.

Internal Commission documents obtained under freedom of information rules and published by ALTER-EU today (http://www.alter-eu.org/conflicts-of-interest-former-commissioners-relevant-documents) reveal the procedures used to approve the new posts for former Commissioners, Verheugen, Joe Borg and Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The documents show that the process, carried out primarily by an Ad-hoc Ethical Committee, is superficial and lacks any serious assessment of possible conflicts of interest. Statements from ex-Commissioners appear to have been accepted without any further investigation.

Paul de Clerck from ALTER-EU commented:

"The Ethical committee is not doing its job properly. It accepted ex-Commissioner Verheugen's claim that his job at the Royal Bank of Scotland does not involve lobbying, yet RBS clearly stated that they hired Verheugen for his experience and contacts in European politics. We need a better system here"

Last week, ALTER-EU launched an online petition, calling on the Commission to block Verheugen’s involvement in the lobby firm European Experience Company, the latest of five private sector jobs taken up by Verheugen after leaving the Commission in February [2].

ALTER-EU also sees a clear risk of conflict of interest in the case of Benita Ferrero-Waldner who has taken jobs with Munich Re and Gamesa (both companies that are involved in the Desertec energy project)[3] and in the latest position taken by ex-Commissioner Charles McCreevy (Commissioner for Internal Market 2004-2010) who last month joined the board of NBNK Investments PLC, an investment company which aims to buy banking assets that are being sold off after the financial crisis. McCreevy's salary will reportedly be between 61,000 and 122,000 euro per year depending on NBNK achieving a major acquisition. McCreevy is reported to hold 20,000 shares in the company [4]. It is unclear whether McCreevy has informed the Commission about this new job.

Olivier Hoedeman, also from ALTER_EU said:

"McCreevy's latest job move violates the existing Code of Conduct as the activities of NBNK clearly relate to the content of McCreevy's portfolio when he was Commissioner".

While at the Commission, McCreevy, who was responsible for developing EU banking regulations, was repeatedly criticised by Members of the European Parliament for failing to impose strict regulations on the financial sector.

"It looks bad when the Commissioner responsible for regulating the financial sector then takes up employment in that same sector", Hoedeman said.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso promised more than a year ago that the Commission would review its Code of Conduct [5]. The string of recent scandals shows that further delay in upgrading the Code of Conduct is unacceptable.