Friday, 25 November 2011

Block the revolving door!

Brussels bubble watchers might remember the names of Verheugen, McCreevy, Ferrero-Waldner, Kuneva – all former EU commissioners who left public service and went through the revolving door into lobby jobs or other jobs which provoked conflicts of interest with their former work. Their cases caused a furore and led to the development of a code of conduct for commissioners and some (slightly) tighter rules.

The names of Carl, Dethomas, Lönngren, Taylor, Westrup, are not well-known, but these EU officials have also gone through the revolving door between the institutions and the Brussels lobby industry. Some of them were at the very highest positions within the EU, yet none were the subject of a cooling-off period which would have prevented them from accepting these lobby jobs. These individuals are symbols of a major, but largely unrecognised phenomenon, and one which is at the heart of the privileged access to EU decision-making process which corporate interests enjoy.

This week, the ALTER-EU coalition, of which Corporate Europe Observatory is a steering committee member, has launched a brand new report and campaign aimed at getting new rules which would block the revolving door between the EU institutions and the lobby industry. The report makes clear that the current rules are weak, not properly applied or enforced, and contain numerous loopholes.

Take the cases listed above: Mogens Peter Carl, the former Director-General at DG Trade and then DG Environment moved to lobby consultancy Kreab Gavin Anderson just six months after leaving the Commission. Kreab represents ICI and Scania, amongst others.

Bruno Dethomas, the former Head of the European Commission’s Eastern Partnership Taskforce (looking at relations between EU and non EU states including Russia) retired in December 2010, joining lobby consultancy G+ Europe in March 2011. G+ Europe’s clients include Gazprom Export and the Russian Federation.

Thomas Lönngren was Executive Director of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) until December 2010. In January 2011, he set up his own consultancy and joined the NDA group, which specialises in advising the pharmaceutical industry. EMA only imposed limited restrictions on Lönngren after NGOs complained about the conflicts of interest provoked by these new jobs.

Derek Taylor, a senior energy adviser working for DG Energy moved to lobby consultancy Burson-Marsteller to work as an energy adviser within weeks of retiring from the Commission and without receiving authorisation. Burson-Marsteller's clients include Suez Environnement and ExxonMobil.

And finally, Mårten Westrup, an official at DG Enterprise moved to BusinessEurope, Brussels' most powerful lobby organisation, to advise on climate change issues, before returning to the Commission, to work at DG Energy. As he worked on a consultancy basis for the Commission, he was considered exempt from the revolving door rules.

These moves through the revolving door by these officials raise profound questions about conflicts of interest. Considering the likely extent of these guys' contact books, policy know-how, and insights into EU decision-making, it is no wonder that the lobby companies that now employ them are proud to trumpet them on their websites.

There is no doubt that when officials go through the revolving door, it's the lobby firms, and their clients who benefit. The officials themselves do pretty well out of it too. Some say that top EU officials can earn up to 500 euro per hour in the lobby industry. Nice work if you can get it.

And the point is that it is all too easy for these officials to get this work - the EU institutions do not appear to take the revolving door issue seriously. One immediate step they could take would be to publish a list of all revolving doors cases and what response the institutions have made to each one. Something similar already happens in the UK, but the EU appears to resist such a proactive approach to transparency. ALTER-EU also wants to see a cooling-off period of at least two years for all EU staff from becoming lobbyists and new rules to regulate lobbyists who join the EU institutions.

Join ALTER-EU to block the revolving door!

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