Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Kallas and the unresolved revolving doors problem

While Commissioner Kallas certainly deserves praise, the paper titled "My results 2005-2009" posted on his website just before Christmas overstates his achievements on some key issues. The voluntary lobby transparency register simply suffers from too many shortcomings to be considered a success, as has been pointed out in numerous postings in this blog and by other observers. Kallas's paper also highlights the “comprehensive staff ethics initiative”, which was launched “to raise awareness of the ethical rules of the European civil service”. A more realistic assessment of Kallas' record on ethics issues is that he has focused too much on awareness-raising and failed to add teeth to the Commission’s approach towards conflicts of interest. The Commission's current ethics rules are sketchy and the implementation ineffective, for instance when it comes to Commission officials going through the revolving doors to private sector lobbying jobs.

In theory, Commission officials are required to request permission before going through the revolving door and the Commission can refuse or attach conditions before authorising the move. In practice, the Commission is far too easy-going with giving the go-ahead. Only last month, Brussels-based lobby consultancy Interel Cabinet Stewart proudly announced that Jean-Philippe Monod de Froideville had become their new associate director. Mr. de Froideville, a Dutchman, was a personal advisor and member of Cabinet of Competition Commissioner Kroes, between July 1st 2007 and December 31st 2008. Interel's press release states that Mr. de Froideville will focus on “competition and trade matters” and that he will work “horizontally across the client portfolio”. It seems that the Commission has failed to prevent some obvious conflicts of interest that could emerge from Mr. de Froideville's new job as a lobbyist on competition policy issues, the very same field for which he was so recently responsible in the Commission. Interel is temporarily absent from the Commission's lobby transparency register, but the consultancy's report submitted to the register earlier this year includes
Rio Tinto and numerous other corporate clients that could have a strong interest in influencing EU competition policy.

When CEO asked the Commission's DG Admin for clarification about its approval of
Mr. de Froideville's new job, the cryptic response was that "the decision has not been taken”. This could mean that the Commission has not at all intervened in the matter of Mr. de Froideville's job move or that the decision has not yet been taken. This last scenario would also be rather surprising, considering that Mr. de Froideville's new employer already on November 19th presented him as their new associate director.

In any case, there is a strong argument to be made for lobby consultancy work on competition policy issues to be entirely off-limits for a member of the Cabinet of the Competition Commissioner for a lengthy period of time. A 'cooling off' period of several years would be needed before conflicts of interest can be convincingly ruled out. Interel's press releases reveals a serious lack of awareness about potential conflicts of interests related to employing high-level Commission officials; yet another good reason for introducing a general cooling-off period of several years.

On the last page of his paper, Commissioner Kallas acknowledges that there are still “a number of important challenges that need to be addressed”, one of which is to “pursue comprehensive staff ethics”. Indeed, there's serious work to be done for Maros Sefcovic, the candidate to replace Commissioner Kallas on Administration matters.

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