3rd Oct 2023

Zahradil 'conflict of interest' probe may flounder

  • The European Parliament in Strasbourg. Czech MEP and former Spitzenkandidat for the ECR, Jan Zahradil, had links to a Vietnamese group while spearheading the EU-Vietnam trade talks (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament has been asked to launch an ethics probe against a Czech MEP following an article published by this website.

But in reality, nothing is likely to happen. Out of the over two dozen cases of violations committed by MEPs over the past few years, not one has ever led to a sanction.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The Greens on Monday (9 December) asked the president of the European Parliament to look into possible conflicts of interest by Jan Zahradil, a right-wing MEP spearheading trade talks with Vietnam.

Similar demands were made last year after this website untangled a network of lobbying between a handful of MEPs and the Moroccan government on an EU trade deal.

Although the French liberal MEP leading talks on the Moroccan deal at the time eventually resigned as a rapporteur, the EU parliament probe into conflicts of interest remains locked and sealed from public view.

An advisory committee on the code of conduct was tasked at the time to look into French socialist Gilles Pargneaux, French liberal Patricia Lalonde, Romanian centre-right Romona Manescu, and Belgian liberal Frederique Ries.

All four had been implicated in the Morocco lobbying affair through EuroMeda, a foundation that was in reality fronting for the Moroccan government.

The parliament's president spokesperson services never responded to EUobserver questions on the results of that inquiry.

A subsequent freedom of information request into the inquiry was also denied by the European Parliament's secretary general, Klaus Welle.

Welle in September said the findings must remain secret, citing legal provisions that any such disclosure would "seriously undermine the institution's decision-making process".

He said no "overriding public interest" had been demonstrated to make the findings public. Ries is currently the vice-chair of the liberal Renew Europe group.

Over the past six years, some two dozen breaches of the European Parliament's code of conduct have been cited and referred to the advisory committee.

Not one breach has ever led to a sanction, according to Transparency International, an NGO. It says such results are unsurprising given the advisory committee is itself composed of MEPs.

"Having political figures taking decisions on ethics has unsurprisingly led to no sanctions," said Vitor Teixeira, a policy officer at Transparency International.

Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, is among the growing chorus of people pressing for changes and earlier this year demanded the European Commission launch an independent ethics body to help put an end to the lack of accountability.

"People can basically do whatever they want and they don't get sanctions and it is not like taking away one daily allowance from an MEP, €320, is going end their life but even that we have never done," he said.

Prior to his position as MEP, Freund worked at Transparency International and had helped uncover the toothless role of the advisory committee.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has since folded the ethics body idea into her agenda, and delegated the task to the transparency commissioner Vera Jourova. No official proposal has so far been floated.

Freund has made it a point with the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee (Afco) to possibly draw up an own proposal first.

"Ultimately the whole system where MEPs judge other MEPs is a flawed a system and it would be better to have an independent body," he said.

Afco is chaired by Antonio Tajani, who sat as the European Parliament's president in the past mandate and whose spokersperson at the time ignored questions by this website into the the code of conduct probes.

As president, Tajani was tasked to decide and act on sanctions by MEPs who violated the code conduct, following recommendations by the advisory committee.

The advisory committee is composed of centre-right Danuta Hubner, socialist Guiliano Pisapia, liberal Renew Karen Melchior, Greens, Heidi Hautala, and conservative ECR Geert Bourgeois.

Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes

MEPs ultimately adopted a controversial report on an EU trade deal with Morocco - despite the sudden resignation by French liberal Patricia Lalonde as the file's rapporteur only moments beforehand. Her departure follows an EUobserver investigation into lobbying by Morocco.


Exposed: How Morocco lobbies EU for its Western Sahara claim

The European parliament's lead negotiator on the Morocco trade deal, French liberal MEP Patricia Lalonde, is also on the EuroMedA Foundation board along with former Moroccan state ministers and a top ranking official in Morocco's ministry of agriculture.


Zahradil 'conflict of interest' over EU-Vietnam trade deal

Right-wing Czech MEP Jan Zahradil is leading European Parliament negotiations on a trade deal with Vietnam. As rapporteur, he is supposed to be neutral but has neglected to declare his involvement in a group with ties to the Communist party.


The shadowy EU parliament boss who likes to say 'no'

Despite 10 years in the job, Klaus Welle is the most powerful man in Brussels few have heard of. The Parliament secretary-general has granted EUobserver access to just one paper written by him - and refused 21 other requests.


Slovak's 'illiberal' Fico victory boosts Orbán, but faces checks

Fico has the potential to shift Slovakia from the West and jeopardise the EU unity in its stance against Russia's Ukraine war. His victory could also have a domino effect in central Europe and empower of other far-right, populist movements.


Why EU Commission dumped Google's favourite consultant

This should be a wake-up call to ensure consultancy firms with a vested interest are permanently excluded from public tenders. The close relationship between the EU's competition authority and economic consultants poses a serious risk to its independence.

Latest News

  1. EU demands 'full clarity' from Warsaw on visa-scandal
  2. EU reveals 10 'critical tech' in bid to de-risk from China
  3. EU Commission at a loss over latest snub from Tunisia
  4. Northern Europe — the new Nato/Russia frontline
  5. The EU-Kenya free trade deal shows a waning 'Brussels effect'
  6. Hoekstra pledges to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies
  7. 10 years on from the Lampedusa shipwreck — what's changed?
  8. EU ministers go to Kyiv to downplay fears on US, Slovak aid

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  2. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators, industry & healthcare experts at the 24th IMDRF session, September 25-26, Berlin. Register by 20 Sept to join in person or online.
  3. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  4. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA
  5. International Medical Devices Regulators Forum (IMDRF)Join regulators & industry experts at the 24th IMDRF session- Berlin September 25-26. Register early for discounted hotel rates
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal interest in the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – here are the speakers for the launch

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers20 June: Launch of the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations
  2. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  3. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  4. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us