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2nd Mar 2024

Former EU commissioner gets slap on the wrist

Former commissioner Neelie Kroes received a "reprimand" from the EU executive for failing to declare an off-shore company and earnings while getting an allowance after she left her position.

But the public shaming, announced on Wednesday (21 December), will have no legal consequences.

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  • Nellie Kroes "did not act with the necessary diligence" when she failed to declare income to the European Commission. (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Commission found that Kroes, who was a commissioner from 2004 to 2014, breached the institution's rules twice.

First, Kroes failed to declare, when she took office in 2004, that she held a post of director in an off-shore company, Mint Holdings. She stayed in the company 2000 to 2009.

The information was disclosed in September by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and a group of newspapers.

Soon after, Kroes sent to the commission an updated declaration of income in which she included earnings she had not declared since leaving her position at the end of 2014.

She was at the time receiving a transitional allowance, to which former commissioners are entitled for three years after they leave office or until they earn as much money as the amount of the allowance.

No financial loss

The commission has asked in October its ad hoc ethical committee to investigate on Kroes's case. The committee handed its report on 16 November and the commission says it followed the report's conclusions.

In its decision, the commission said that in the first case, Kroes breached the commissioners' code of conduct, and in the second she "did not act with the necessary diligence" and breached a regulation on commissioners' income.

After the former commissioner admitted that she had hidden income while receiving her transitional allowance, the commission "recovered immediately the money and thus prevented any financial loss for the budget of the union."

The commission said that the amount Kroes failed declared, since when she had failed to do so, and how much was recovered was confidential.

The EU executive found "no sufficient element nor legal grounds" to seize the EU Court of Justice or seek a financial sanction. It therefore decided that Kroes only "deserved a reprimand."

That means that Kroes will continue to receive the pension from the commission to which she is entitled.

'Reputational damage'

EU sources noted that this was the first time that a former commissioner was finger-pointed this way and that it was "reputational damage" for the 75-year old Dutch politician.

After leaving the commission, Kroes created controversy by joining the advisory board of the US car-sharing firm Uber, which she had defended when she was digital commissioner.

It was the second time this year that the commission's ad hoc committee was asked to investigate the conduct of a former commissioner.

In September the committee looked into the appointment of Jose Manuel Barroso, a two-term commission president - as non-executive chairman and special adviser on Brexit to the US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The committee later ruled that Barroso had "not shown the considerate judgement" that one could expect and had associated the commission with 'the negative image of financial greed ascribed to the bank."

But it had concluded that Barroso had breached no rule, and no sanction or reprimand had been applied for.

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