Thursday, 8 December 2011

That revolving door just keeps on spinning ... yet the Commission seems unwilling to do anything about it

A couple of weeks ago, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a new campaign to block the revolving door. Alongside numerous cases of officials, often at the very highest levels in the EU institutions, who have gone through the revolving door to join Brussels' lucrative lobby industry, there was a comprehensive analysis about why the current rules (contained in the Staff Regulations) don't work. In short, they are often ignored, contain loopholes, and aren't properly enforced anyway. And ALTER-EU politely pointed out to Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič that, as the Staff Regulations were already being reviewed, wouldn't it be a good idea to look at the revolving door rules at the same time?

Unfortunately, the response from the Commission has been disappointing, to say the least.

The Commissioner's spokesperson has said that there are already very “strict rules” already in place, although that is hard to believe when the ALTER-EU report pointed out a number of officials who have ignored the rules (and gotten away with it, without sanction), or were not covered by the rules (because of the loophole which excludes staff on temporary contracts from systematic consideration under the rules). Together with the fact that there is only one known case of an official actually being prevented from taking a job under these so-called “strict rules”, the Commission's record in this area seems pretty poor.

Instead, it seems perfectly acceptable for the EU's top officials (and by top we mean Directors-General, advisers to Commissioners and Heads of Cabinet) to go through the revolving door to work for Brussels lobby firms where their corporate clients have a huge interest in hearing the insights of, and benefiting from the personal networks of, such senior officials.

As for Commissioner Šefčovič himself, he might need to do a bit more homework on the revolving door issue. He told an event last week, that EU Commissioners have the longest cooling off period in the world when it comes to the revolving door. But in fact, there is no cooling off period at all for Commissioners; they have a notification period of 18 months during which they must notify the Commission of their new proposed jobs and gain authorisation. This is not the same thing!

But the Commissioner did say one encouraging thing: “We should work hard to avoid conflicts of interest and privileged information. We cannot track what thousands of pensioners are doing but if there are individual cases we will look at them”.

In this case, perhaps the Commissioner could start with looking at the revolving door cases which CEO has listed on its new RevolvingDoorWatch tool. Amongst other cases, RevolvingDoorWatch features Pablo Asbo from Spain, a DG Competition case handler for six years, who is now Associate Director for Competition at Avisa Partners, a Brussels lobby consultancy. At least one of Avisa's current clients was party to a case that Asbo dealt with whilst at DG Competition. Eline Post from the Netherlands was also a case handler at DG Competition and she is now a senior consultant for competition, also at Avisa Partners. Neither Post nor Asbo had authorisation for these moves until CEO raised these cases with the Commission, which constitutes a clear breach of the rules. CEO has submitted complaints about both of these cases.

RevolvingDoorWatch will continue to be updated in the coming weeks as we find new cases, or update current cases. Unfortunately the revolving door problem is not going away for Commissioner Šefčovič...

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