Code of conduct for MEPs
Over-reliance on public pressure to clear conflicts of interest
By Gaspard Sebag | Friday 20 April 2012
In March 2011, four MEPs were accused of accepting to table amendments for ‘clients’ after having been told by undercover reporters from
The Sunday Times that such work would be compensated with money. Nine months later, Parliament took a step toward cleaning the dust in its house: a huge majority in plenary endorsed a code of conduct for deputies, which strengthened declarations of financial interests in view of increasing transparency on second jobs. These new declarations, which have not all been filed in time, are supposed to crank up a notch the pressure on MEPs who hold second jobs that might entail lobbying. In case a conflict of interest is found, Parliament relies mostly on public pressure for a deputy to quit the contentious employment.
A look at all the committee chairs in Parliament shows that Klaus-Heiner Lehne (EPP, Germany) is a lawyer and partner at international law firm Taylor Wessing and he also chairs the EP’s Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI). Thanks to this extra work, Lehne earns over €10,000 on top of his salary as a deputy. Elmar Brok (EPP, Germany), who recently took over the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), is an advisor at Bertelsmann AG, a multinational media corporation, which owns among others the RTL Group. This second employment guarantees him extra income: between €5,001 and €10,000 per month.
To assess potential conflicts of interests (see box) on a case-by-case basis, an advisory committee of five MEPs was set up. Any deputy can consult it. The cabinets of Lehne and Brok have not yet consulted the advisory committee,
Europoliticsunderstands. Advisory committee member Gerald Häfner (Greens-EFA, Germany) admits that, beyond naming-and-shaming, Parliament has no legal instrument to ban second jobs if a conflict of interest is found. For the moment, the advisory committee has found no breach, he adds. “It’s up to the media or the public to decide whether there is a conflict of interest that would make a member not free,” Häfner tells
Europolitics. Public pressure is not always enough, it appears. Despite
The Sunday Times ‘cash for amendments’ scandal, Adrian Severin (NI, Romania), who was in the eye of the storm, remains an MEP.
Questioned on the topic of second jobs by
Europolitics, S&D leader Hannes Swoboda (Austria) said that “in the implementation of the rules any kind of violation is unacceptable”. “The important thing is that if people want to stay in this Parliament they must refrain from lobbying activities,” he added. A message sent to the House.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Greens-EFA, France), on the other hand, believes it is not his role, as group president, to police the Parliament. He put the ball in EP President Martin Schulz’s court. The only weapons Schulz has at his disposal range from a simple reprimand or the removal of daily allowances to the destitution of rapporteur, chair, vice-president and quaestor roles.
Natacha Cingotti from the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) wonders whether the new code of conduct is being taken seriously, particularly in light of the fact that several MEPs did not fill in the declaration of financial interests on time. Among the committee chairs, Danuta Hübner (EPP, Poland) from Regional Development (REGI) missed the end-of-March deadline by a few days. An EP official says that nearly one third of parliamentarians were late. Not having been able to obtain information about the monitoring of all 754 declarations of financial interests,
Europolitics proceeded to a quick scan of the 73-strong British contingent of MEPs: at least nine (12%) declarations of financial interests were received by Parliament’s services after the end-of-March deadline.
Conflicts of interest are defined as existing when an MEP has “a personal interest that could improperly influence the performance of his or her duties”. A leeway exists, however, to enable part-time farmers - many of them are on the Committee on Agriculture (AGRI) - to continue their second job.