Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Is Pat Cox 'too special' to follow the rules?

After the Commission’s refusal last week to disclose the declaration of Pat Cox’s “professional activities”, Corporate Europe Observatory has now also received a more general reply from the Commission about the issue of Mr. Cox’s conflicts of interest. Remarkably, the Commission argues that the conflicts of interest rules of its Health and Consumers department (DG SANCO) do not apply in the case of Mr. Cox.

These rules stress that “it is essential that external experts are free from financial self interest when performing their duties as advisors; that they have no parallel loyalty to another organisation; that they are not burdened with competing personal or professional agendas or compromising personal or professional relationships” and that ‘someone who is known to work for an organisation with a ‘vested interest’ on a particular policy issue and is appointed advisor, should simply not be appointed”.

The Commission’s new letter says that:
“Special Advisers [...] is a very specific group of persons not covered as such in DG SANCO’s Guidelines. The Decision on Special Adviser covers the appointment of “a person who, by reason of his special qualifications and notwithstanding gain full employment in some other capacity is engaged to assist one of the institutions of the Communities” [...]. The situation of such Special Advisers is thus indeed “special”: while DG SANCO’s Guidelines cover all types of experts, the Decision on Special Advisers aims at making it possible for the Commission to have the benefit of the services of an exceptionally qualified person, in the case at hand a former President of the European Parliament, while allowing him/her to continue with other activities, subject of course to all of the obligations relating to the avoidance of conflicts of interest cited above. In the case of unpaid Special Advisers such as Mr COX, it would not only be unreasonable to prohibit all other activities, but would presumably also oblige the person in question to refuse the appointment there by depriving the Commission of the expertise of an exceptionally qualified and experienced adviser.”

Corporate Europe Observatory never argued that Mr. Cox should abstain from all other paid activities. We have merely pointed out that there is a major risk of conflicts of interest arising from Mr. Cox’s activities as a paid lobbyist for large firms with vested interests in EU consumer policies, including APCO, Microsoft, Michelin and Pfizer.

In our opinion, there is no justification for exempting Mr. Cox – or any Commission advisors for that matter – from DG SANCO’s Guidelines. We have therefore today written to the Commission’s Secretariat General to ask for further clarification.

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