Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Commission - belatedly - investigates John Bruton's revolving door move to Brussels lobby consultancy

Ex-commissioner Günter Verheugen is not the only Commission official who just ignored the rules about seeking approval for a new job (Verheugen failed to inform the Commission of his new lobby consultancy firm, the European Experience Company). John Bruton, former Irish Prime Minister and EU ambassador in Washington DC until November 2009, failed to notify the Commission about two new jobs which clearly involve potential conflicts of interest. After Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) raised this issue earlier this week, the Commission appears to have contacted Bruton and made him file a request for approval for his jobs at the Dublin-based International Financial Services Centre and Brussels-based lobby consultancy Cabinet DN (where he has worked as a Senior Advisor since December 2010).

As head of the Commission’s delegation in the US (2004-2009), Bruton was one of the highest Commission officials, but he seems to have been unaware of the obligations under the Staff Regulations (Article 16) for “Officials intending to engage in an occupational activity, whether gainful or not, [to] within two years of leaving the service shall inform their institution thereof.” After such a notification, the Commission assesses possible conflicts of interest and can “either forbid [the official] from undertaking it or give its approval subject to any conditions it thinks fit.”

The incident also reveals that the Commission does not monitor post-employment activities for even its most senior officials - and does not act until a problem is raised by civil society watchdogs like CEO.

The Commission’s decision on the case is unlikely to be clear-cut, judging from its record on revolving door cases so far. Following a query from Nessa Childers MEP, the Commission revealed that just one out of 201 requests for job approvals has been turned down since January 2008 (less than 0,5% of the cases).

In 2009, the Commission gave the green light to Jean-Philippe Monod de Froideville (a personal advisor and member of Competition Commissioner Kroes’ cabinet) to move to lobby consultancy Interel Cabinet Stewart, where he works for industry clients on “competition and trade matters”.

It also approved - in 2010 - Mogens Peter Carl’s move to Kreab Gavin Anderson (KGA). Carl, who works for KGA clients on energy issues, was director-general in DG Environment at the European Commission and also served as director-general in DG Trade. Also worth mentioning is Michel Petite, head of the Commission’s powerful Legal Service from 2001-2008, who moved straight to Clifford Chance, a leading law firm with a blossoming lobbying business. This revolving door case was shortlisted for the top-five nominations for the category of Worst Conflict of Interest in the Worst EU Lobbying Awards 2008. Petite, ironically, now heads the Commission’s Ad Hoc Ethical Committee, responsible for assessing conflicts of interest related to job moves by ex-Commissioners.

The Commission is about to start discussions with MEPs about stricter rules for ex-Commissioners wanting to go through he revolving door. The Bruton case underlines the need to also strengthen the Staff Regulations and the Commission’s monitoring of which new jobs former Commission staff take.

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