Brussels salutes Iceland for its strict new code of conduct for MPs
10.11.10 @ 09:28
BRUSSELS - Brussels has cheered the government's tough new code of conduct, enacted in the wake of the country's economic collapse and accompanying revelations of the closeness of the political and business classes in Reykjavik.
Part of a European Commission progress report on the state of play of all EU membership applications, including those of Turkey, Croatia and Macedonia, the document assessing Iceland welcomed the north Atlantic nation's efforts to clean up its act.
When the commission recommended in February to EU leaders to give the green light to starting membership talks with Iceland, the EU executive surprised many when, beyond issues relating to the country's closed fishing sector and its ongoing banking dispute with the Netherlands and the UK, Brussels said that before the country could join, worries about the independence of the country's judiciary and conflicts of interest amongst political elites would have to be resolved.
The EU executive said at the time that following the financial crisis, "certain questions have been raised concerning possible conflicts of interest in Iceland's public life, such as close links between the political class and the business community."
"Mechanisms to reduce the scope for conflict of interests will need to be strengthened appropriately," it said. However, in the update on Iceland's status issued on Tuesday, the commission said: "good progress can be reported in anti-corruption policy."
In June this year, the Althingi, the Icelandic parliament, adopted a bill that imposes on all government officials and members of the prime minister's cabinet a code of conduct under the supervision of the parliamentary ombudsman.
The legislation provides for regular ethics training within the public sector, offers protection for whistleblowers and slaps penalties on ministers in breach of their responsibilities.
Iceland also amended its legislation on the financing of political parties and transparency of partisan funding sources. However, "effective prevention and awareness raising activities on all forms of corruption" are still required, the document warned.
The report comes as the European institutions themselves are being put under the microscope for corruption by transparency organisations after a wave of what are called 'revolving doors' cases, in which commissioners and other senior officials have gone on to lucrative corporate positions related to the sectors just a few months ago they were responsible for regulating.
Also on Tuesday, Alter-EU, the lobbying transparency watchdog, delivered a petition organised by the international online campaign group Avaaz to the commission signed by some 50,000 citizens demanding Brussels put an end to cases of revolving doors for ex-commissioners.
Last month, MEPs voted to freeze part of ex-commissioners' pensions unless changes were made to the code of conduct. Both MEPs and NGOs complain that the current code is toothless.
Currently, an ad hoc committee meets behind closed doors to assess whether commissioners are breaking the rules.
The committee has only once found a commissioner to be in conflict, earlier this month, after it emerged that former internal market and financial services commissioner Charlie McGreevy had taken a job with a British investment bank, NBNK, set to profit from the fall-out of the financial crisis.
The parliament also wants substantial penalties imposed for breaches, as well as the introduction of reporting rules.
On Tuesday, the commission was scheduled to publish draft changes to the code.
The Iceland report also noted that the country overall was progressing in most areas related to the political and economic criteria for membership in the EU.
But it highlighted a number of problems, including restrictions on foreign investment in the fishery's sector; limited progress in the freedom of other countries to provide cross-border services, notably in the area of postal delivery; food safety laboratory capacities; and administrative structures in the agricultural sector.
The report also noted that the banking dispute with the Netherlands and the UK "remains unresolved".