Monday, 23 January 2012

Ex-Commissioners going through the revolving door: transparency promise delayed

In April 2011 following a public outcry about ex-Commissioners going through the revolving door into industry (lobby) jobs, the European Commission introduced a slightly stricter Code of Conduct for Commissioners. No fewer than 6 out of the 13 Commissioners who left in February 2010 went into such jobs, including powerful Commissioners like Gunter Verheugen and Charlie McCreevy, who took a whole string of lobbying jobs provoking conflicts of interest. The Commission blocked just one job move because of glaring conflicts of interests (McCreevy’s move to NBNK Investments); the rest were given the green light with only very limited restrictions imposed on their activities with their new employers. Announcing the new code, Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič also promised that the Commission would create a website where the public could access information about decisions about Commissioners moving into new jobs. This promise of online transparency was an important change. Previously cumbersome freedom-of-information requests, usually initiated by NGOs, was the only way of shedding any light on Commissioners’ job moves.

Unfortunately it is now clear that the Commission is not in any hurry to implement the promise, quite the contrary. The Commission has informed Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) that the promised website will only be launched when the current Commissioners depart in 2015. This means that the Commission's decisions regarding the Commissioners who left in 2010 will not be published anywhere on the Commission’s website, brushing the related revolving door scandals under the carpet. It is hard to justify why the Commission should not implement its promise now, starting with the most recent cases and then updating the website with new decisions as they happen. This disappointing approach raises questions about the Commission’s commitment to pro-active transparency.

While we’re waiting for the Commission to implement its transparency promise, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) website is the place to go for these types of documents. ALTER-EU published a large number of Commission documents regarding the approval procedure for the above-mentioned six ex-Commissioners online back in spring 2011. ALTER-EU has now updated the site with documents about several new cases, received through freedom-of-information requests (using the excellent asktheeu.org website).

Among the new cases are ex-Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner's move to join the board of Alpine Group, a large multinational construction company. The Commission approved this move in the same superficial way as the numerous other board positions she has accepted, without any cooling-off period or ban on lobbying.

Also new on the website is the Commission’s approval of ex-Commissioner Meglena Kuneva's appointment at the Trilateral Commission, a neoliberal thinktank.

Meanwhile, the Commission continues to reject calls for pro-active transparency around its decisions about Commission officials (staff) going through the revolving door. In a letter last month, the Commission argued that introducing a revolving door register for Commission officials would violate data protection and privacy rules because names “are also considered personal data”.

In its response to Commissioner Šefčovič, ALTER-EU has countered this argument and reiterated calls for a revolving door register, pointing to the fact that such a register already exists in the UK. CEO's RevolvingDoorWatch pages will also include information about new cases as we find them.

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