During her hearing in Parliament on Tuesday 12 January, designate Commissioner Rumiana Jeleva came under fire over potential conflicts of interest resulting from undeclared business interests. She was also accused of irregularities in the declarations of financial interests that she filed as a member of the European Parliament (2007-2009). After the hearing there was a lot of doubt about her ability to handle the portfolio she has been assigned. At the time of writing, Ms. Jeleva’s chances of becoming European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response look very slim indeed.
After the hearing, there has been a lot of confusion about the allegations of a conflict of interest and lack of transparency. European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek reportedly sent a letter to Commission President Barroso on Thursday 14 January, asking Mr. Barroso to confirm whether Ms Jeleva’s declaration of interest is in line with the Code of Conduct for Commissioners and whether he still considers her the right candidate for the post she was assigned to.
Concerns about Ms. Jeleva’s conflicts of interest were voiced at the time when her designation was first announced by Barroso in November, so she should have been thoroughly screened by the Commission a long time ago. The prolonged confusion over Ms Jeleva’s real or perceived irregularities and Commission President Barroso’s continued silence indicate that the Commission has failed to do serious, pro-active screening of conflicts of interest of the designate Commissioners. As a result, the reputation of the EU institutions has now been seriously damaged.
The way that the Commission deals with potential conflicts of interest of EU Commissioners is structurally flawed, as was pointed out by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) in a letter on the revision of the Code of Conduct for Commissioners, sent to Commission President Barroso on 24 November 2009.
In this letter, ALTER-EU recommended
- a more precise definition of what constitutes a conflict of interest;
- better transparency on financial interests of Commissioners, and
- independent oversight of potential conflicts of interest at the European Commission.
In its letter, ALTER-EU noted that, according to the 2005 Framework agreement on EP-Commission relations, “the President of the Commission shall be fully responsible for identifying a conflict of interest which renders a Member of the Commission unable to perform her duties”. Therefore, ALTER-EU asked Mr. Barroso to outline how he will guarantee the complete independence and absence of conflicts of interest of new Commissioners. Seven weeks later, ALTER-EU has still not received any answer from Mr. Barroso.