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26th Sep 2021

New EU ethics body takes shape

  • Over the last few years, some 27 MEPs have been found guilty of violating ethics - yet none were sanctioned (Photo: European Parliament)

A new EU ethics body is taking shape in the European Parliament - but is unlikely to have the power to formulate binding decisions.

The group of MEPs working on the proposal, spearheaded by the German Green, Daniel Freund, thrashed out final compromises earlier this week.

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"We mostly have a deal, with a clear agreement on the lion's share of compromises," said Freund on Wednesday (19 May).

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had included the creation of the body as part of her political guidelines in 2019.

The idea is to create a common independent ethics body for all the EU institutions - a proposal also supported by French president Emmanuel Macron.

The current self-regulatory system, staffed by MEPs themselves, has proven ineffective at weeding out troublemakers and stopping scandals.

Similar self-policing systems at the other EU institutions have also been largely weak, lacking in any meaningful sanctions.

But stiff resistance has since mounted to water down any such new ethics body - mostly from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP).

Among the biggest critics is Rainer Wieland , a German vice-president within the EPP. He had tabled numerous amendments to weaken the proposal.

However, Wieland appears to have also made some surprise last-minute concessions on the right to initiate investigations.

It means the ethics body may be able to launch probes on its own volition, a position he generally opposes.

The concessions come on the back of recent corruption scandals in Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party to which he belongs and which also has its home in the EPP.

Another concession was made with Renew Europe, seen as the kingmaker in the talks.

The liberal position is handled by French MEP, Gilles Boyer.

"I can assure you that if I had opposed it, there would be no majority in parliament to create it," he said, in an email.

Boyer said he had to take into "account the balances" within in his group, and not just his personal opinion.

"The text that is emerging is ambitious, will allow the creation of an independent body, which is progress compared to the current situation," he said.

But Boyer has also tabled amendments, removing the power to enforce penalties in case of ethics breaches.

Freund said the major concession for the new body, to not take binding decisions, also emerged after talks with Boyer.

However, not every French liberal appears to have sided with Boyer on the issue.

His counterpart, Stéphane Sèjourné, said in a report that the decisions by the body "should be legally binding" for everyone.

The proposal now has to be debated at the committee level, before going to a plenary vote later on this year.

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Last week, a majority in the European Parliament voted in favour of creating a new EU ethics body, covering MEPs and the European Commission. German Green MEP Daniel Freund, who spearheaded the report, says negotiations are likely to start soon.

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