MEP lobbying scandal exposes urgent need for stricter rules

21 March 2011

Civil society coalition ALTER-EU calls for stricter ethics rules for MEPs and a mandatory lobby register

Brussels, 21 March 2011 – An alliance of transparency campaigners today urged a root and branch overhaul of ethics rules for MEPs, following the revelations published in UK newspaper, the Sunday Times (20 March) exposing how three MEPs were prepared to accept payments in return for tabling amendments in the European Parliament [1].

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation in the EU (ALTER-EU) also demanded that all three MEPs resign immediately. One of the three, Austrian MEP Ernst Strasser announced he was stepping down yesterday. Zoran Thaler MEP and Adrian Severin MEP were also accused of accepting cash for laws in the newspaper sting.

ALTER-EU said that the European Parliament's rules governing transparency, ethics, conflicts of interest and relations with lobbyists are currently far too lax and offer little protection against unscrupulous behaviour.

Andy Rowell, speaking for ALTER-EU, said: "This scandal was an accident waiting to happen. The politicians in Brussels – who are responsible for making the laws – enjoy far too cosy a relationship with industry lobbyists. It is not surprising that the MEPs found it so easy to act on behalf of the fake lobbyists. This scandal could be merely the tip of the iceberg. Rules on ethics and conflicts of interests are simply too weak".

ALTER EU has long called for reform of conflicts of interest rules for the European Parliament and the Commission [2]. The European Parliament does not currently have an ethics code or an ethics committee, but only some basic principles outlined in its rules of procedure.

ALTER-EU is calling for an investigation into all the second jobs currently held by MEPs and the urgent development of strict rules for second jobs, including a ban on all jobs that involve lobbying or otherwise lead to conflicts of interest. An in depth report from Reuters last week revealed that numerous MEPs hold second jobs that lead to obvious conflicts of interest, all of which go unchallenged due to the lack of adequate ethics rules for MEPs.

Ernst Strasser works for a Vienna-based consultancy firm, lobbying for industry clients, the Sunday Times revealed.

ALTER-EU is also urging more effective transparency rules for lobbyists. Erik Wesselius from ALTER-EU added: "These scandals underline the need for a high-quality, mandatory lobbying transparency register. If lobbyists had to declare their activities, then it would be easier to identify when the system was being abused."

The Commission's current lobby register is voluntary and only a minority of Brussels' lobbyists have registered. A new joint Commission and Parliament register which will be launched in the summer is likely include more lobbyists, but as it remains voluntary, many will continue to lobby without being registered[4]

 

Notes:

1: The Sunday Times yesterday revealed that three MEPs have accepted secret payments in eturn for putting forward amendments to undermine consumer protection in a directive on banking rules. Videos released by Sunday Times confirm that MEPs Strasser, Severin and Thaler agreed to corruption after being offered large sums of money by journalists from the newspaper's respected Insight investigative team had posed as financial lobbyists.

2: ALTER-EU's demands for "Upgrading European Parliament transparency and ethics rules to prevent conflicts of interest" includes: "The European Parliament needs stronger transparency and ethics rules, for instance to ensure that MEPs do not receive money, gifts, or hospitality from industries they are regulating. MEPs should put their shares in a blind trust if they are related to their work in the Parliament and Rapporteurs on parliamentary reports should not have a financial interest in the industry affected by the legislation at stake. Effective transparency and ethics rules are needed for Intergroups and other cross-party groups involving MEPs and lobbyists." See http://www.alter-eu.org/documents/2010/06/01/ending-corporate-lobbying-privileges-and-secrecy-10-steps

3: Examples include Edward Scicluna, who sits on the parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and co-wrote laws for hedge funds last year. Scicluna is also the chairman of two investment funds run by HSBC. "Special report - How lobbyists rewrite Europe's laws", Reuters, March 18 2011. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/03/18/uk-europe-lobbying-idUKTRE72H21M20110318

4: ALTER-EU assessment of European Parliament – Commission agreement on a common "Transparency Register", http://www.alter-eu.org/documents/2011/02/11/alter-eu-position-on-transparency-register

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The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) is a coalition of over 160 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms concerned with the increasing influence exerted by corporate lobbyists on the political agenda in Europe, the resulting loss of democracy in EU decision-making and the postponement, weakening, or blockage even, of urgently needed progress on social, environmental and consumer-protection reforms. See www.alter-eu.org