Monday, 20 December 2010

Internal documents throw light on McCreevy and Kuneva industry jobs

2010 saw high-profile controversy around the large number of ex-Commissioners who went through the revolving door in to lobbying jobs in industry. The year is now drawing to an end and we're still waiting for the promised new Code of Conduct for Commissioners. The vice president of the European Commision, Maroš Šefčovič has repeatedly pledged that the draft rules will be presented before the end of the year, after which the European Parliament will discuss the proposal. On the grapevine we've heard that the new draft rules have actually already been finalised by the Commission and sent to some within the European Parliament, but there's nothing to be found on the Commission's website. So much for transparency!

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth Europe last week published a number of internal Commission documents related to the approval of the new jobs of six ex-Commissioners. Among the most interesting of these documents, obtained under freedom of information rules, are those related to Irish ex-Commissioner Charlie McCreevy’s move to RyanAir and former Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva's transfer to BNP Paribas. The Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant pointed out in September that McCreevy regularly dealt with RyanAir during his time as Commissioner. The airline refused to comply with EU rules to compensate delayed passengers and had challenged a decision by the Commission to block the takeover of Air Lingus.

“As a Commissioner McCreevy decided not to appeal a decision by the European Court of Justice about illegal state aid which was beneficial for Ryanair. The company can now continue to cash in millions of euros tax payers money for flights to regional airports. This is good for the share options which McCreevy now receives as part of his remuneration”.

The final conclusions of the Ad-hoc Ethical Committee (document 55), tasked with approving McCreevy’s move, do mention that McCreevy was involved in these decisions on competition matters and state aid cases, but saw no problem because “McCreevy was not directly in charge”. The Committee also argued that the decisions were not “related to the content of the Internal Market portfolio for which Mr. McCreevy was in charge”. But in that case, why would McCreevy be consulted on these matters? Also the non-executive character of McCreevy’s directorship at Ryanair is brought forward as an additional argument, although in fact this does not actually limit the range of activities he may undertake for the firm and is therefore irrelevant.

McCreevy’s Appointment Letter (document number 51) shows that he will be paid an additional fee for “specific advice to be provided to the Board and Management on European Commission and Government relations including up to two annual visits with Senior Management to Brussels for meetings with the European Commission”. It was therefore entirely clear to the Ad-hoc Ethical Committee that McCreevy’s job would involve lobbying the Commission. The Committee, however, only suggests instructing McCreevy to “abstain from providing advice where it would relate to a case involving Ryanair for which he, or his Cabinet […] has been consulted during his term of office, as this could create at least the perception of a conflict of interest”. The Commission followed the feeble advice of the Ethical Committee word by word. This means that McCreevy got the green light for lobbying the Commission on any issue other than the ones he was directly involved in during his time as Commissioner. Ryanair was given permission to hire an ex-Commissioner to boost its lobbying efforts by using his contacts to open doors and insider knowledge.

The documents relating to Kuneva's move to the mega-bank BNP Paribas reveal that the Ad-hoc Ethical Committee appeared to be more pre-occupied with rubberstamping ex-Commissioners moving into industry jobs than with seriously and objectively assessing any conflict of interest. The Ad-hoc Ethical Committee found that the job “could possibly present a link” with Kuneva's previous responsibilites within the Commission,“notably concerning studies related to bank tariffs in Europe”, but claimed “that such situation would not create a conflict of interest” (document 67). No arguments are presented to back this up, so it remains unclear how the Committee reached this counter-intuitive conclusion, which the Commission then endorsed. The Committe suggested to give the go-ahead with just one condition that Kuneva should inform the Commission if she joined one of the committees set up within the BNP Paribas board. If she joined “say a 'consumers committee' with the board, this might have to be further evaluated” (document 70). Remarkably, the Commission did not include this nor any other condition in its approval letter to Kuneva (document 73). Kuneva was left entirely free to advise and otherwise assist BNP Paribas with lobbying.

The ALTER-EU coalition has repeatedly called for these and other revolving door cases to be re-assessed. Earlier this month, ALTER-EU wrote to the Commission to ask why there was – and still is - no decision on ex-Commissioner Verheugen's involvement in the European Experience Company, the lobby consultancy he co-founded in April. The Commission's failure to act bodes ill for the new Code of Conduct.

It is high time the Commission acknowledged that the revolving door is an unacceptable tool for corporations to gain undue access and influence. Only when the Commission shows its cards and publishes the new Code of Conduct will we know if these scandals will finally be prevented.