24th Jun 2021

Watchdog probes 100 'revolving doors' cases at EU Commission

  • The EU Commission approved 99 percent of transfer requests made by their staff to take on private-sector jobs in 2019 (Photo: European Commission)

The EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly has launched a major inquiry into how the European Commission handles cases in which EU officials move on to take private-sector jobs.

This phenomenon, dubbed 'revolving doors', creates a risk of conflicts of interest as EU staff's previous status, contacts and insider knowledge can benefit their new employers.

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In this new inquiry, announced on Tuesday (18 May) the EU's watchdog will examine 100 personnel files, where the EU Commission approved the transfer requests of senior and mid-level managers into new employment or unpaid leave to undertake another activity.

The investigation will cover 14 out of the 33 directorate-generals, all commissioner cabinets, the commission's legal service, its secretariat-general, its internal think-tank and the regulatory scrutiny board.

This "wide scope" aims to provide a broad picture of how such decisions are taken across different departments, the EU Ombudsman said in a statement.

"Robust management of the 'revolving doors' issue is important for maintaining trust in the EU institutions," said O'Reilly, pointing out that its potential "corrosive effect" is often underestimated.

"We have been doing this for many years, but I do not think there is a deep understanding of why this is problematic," she added, pointedly.

"There should be more awareness in the EU administration of the impression it makes on the public when people with regulatory expertise move to the private sector where their knowledge and networks can have significant commercial and other value," she added.

The inquiry comes a few months after the EU Ombudsman urged the commission president Ursula von der Leyen to monitor whether former commissioner Günther Oettinger is complying with the conditions placed on him when approving his new role at a communications consultancy, which has a tobacco company as one of its largest EU clients.

Under these conditions, Oettinger cannot help the consultancy or its clients directly or indirectly lobby the EU executive.

In the past, many EU commissioners and even the most senior EU officials have made similar career moves.

For example, commission president Jose Manuel Barroso joined US investment bank Goldman Sachs, which lobbies against financial regulation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Last year, the ombudsman examined how the European Banking Authority (EBA) handled the move of its former executive director, Adam Farkas, to become CEO of a financial industry lobby group - and concluded that there was maladministration.

In its recommendations, O'Reilly said the EBA should consider forbidding, temporarily, its senior staff from taking up certain positions after their term-of-office - and informing applicants of such conditions when they apply.

The commission approved over 99 percent of transfer requests (363 applications) into the private sector in 2019, according to an analysis by lobbying watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO).

Besides revolving-door cases, the CEO report also warns that officials often received the approval to take unpaid temporary leave and then seek employment in the private sector while keeping open the door to return to the EU Commission in the future.

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