16th Aug 2022

Watchdog calls for tougher curbs on 'problematic' revolving doors

  • The potential 'corrosive effect' of revolving door cases is often underestimated, the EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly said (Photo: EU Ombudsman)
Listen to article

The European Commission should be more transparent and apply stricter curbs when EU officials move on to take private-sector jobs, the EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly concluded on Wednesday (18 May) — after a major inquiry into hundreds of 'revolving doors' cases.

This phenomenon creates a risk of conflicts of interest as EU personnel's previous status, contacts and insider knowledge can benefit their new employers — and thus undermines public trust in EU institutions.

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

  • Inquiries conducted by the EU Ombudsman in 2021 (Photo: EU ombudsman)

The EU's watchdog launched its inquiry in May 2021, reviewing 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 job, mainly in 2019 and 2020.

Of these 100 decisions, the EU commission prohibited a former staff member from taking on a private sector job only on two occasions.

The investigation covered 14 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.

O'Reilly warned the movement of EU officials into sectors which they previously regulated has become "problematic" in Brussels — the second biggest lobbying centre in the world after Washington.

"Without a more robust approach to the movement of staff to the private sector, the European Commission risks undermining the integrity of the EU administration," the ombudsman said, arguing that the potential "corrosive effect" is often underestimated.

"The EU commission has to take this seriously because if it doesn't, then it becomes endemic," she added.

In her recommendations, O'Reilly said the commission should forbid former staff members from taking up positions temporarily when the risks, such as a potential conflict of interest, cannot be offset with restrictions — and set out clear criteria for when it will forbid such exodus.

She also called on the EU executive to make the approval of a new job conditional upon, for example, publishing restrictions on the website of the new employer or alongside the staff member profile.

In the first instance, the commission should ask former staff members to prove that the restrictions imposed on all post-service activities were shared with the new employee, the ombudsman said.

Last year, O'Reilly urged the commission president Ursula von der Leyen to monitor whether former commissioner Günther Oettinger is complying with the conditions placed on him when working at a consultancy, which has a tobacco company as one of its largest clients.

Under the commission restrictions, Oettinger was not allowed to help the consultancy or its clients directly or indirectly lobby the EU executive.

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

In former probes related to former officials from the European Banking Authority and the European Defence Agency, O'Reilly found that both should have been temporarily forbidden.

Additionally, the ombudsman has called on the commission to be more transparent over EU officials moving on to take private-sector jobs, publishing their decision shortly after they are taken.

"The problem is there's a huge lag. Sometimes [it takes] up to two years, between the decision being made and it being published," O'Reilly told a press briefing in Brussels on Wednesday.

Now the EU commission will have six months to respond to the EU ombudsman.

Annual review

Last year, the EU ombudsman received 2,166 complaints of which nearly one-third were related to the transparency and accountability of Brussels institutions.

As a result, the watchdog launched a total of 338 inquiries — of which six were on her own initiative.

This includes investigations into delays by the EU commission on access to documents requests, the European Medicine Agency's refusal to publish documents related to vaccines, Frontex's accountability mechanisms, and the legitimacy of the public consultation on the Sustainable Corporate Governance initiative.

NGOs reveal 71 'revolving-door' cases at fossil-fuel giants

A new research has revealed dozens of 'revolving-door' cases at some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the EU and their lobby groups – triggering calls for stricter ethical rules, similar to those of tobacco industry.

EU commission on defensive over 'revolving doors'

The European Commission rubber-stamped over 99 percent requests by officials to take on jobs in the private sector, posing ethical questions in light of known examples where conflicts of interests appear to be clear cut.

Ombudsman slams EU bank watchdog for 'revolving doors'

The European Banking Authority allowed its executive director to take a job at one of the world's largest financial lobbying groups. The move has been slammed by the European Ombusdman, who called it maladministration.

Draghi's grip on power finally unravels

Italy looked set to lose its highly-respected prime minister Mario Draghi on Thursday, after his attempt to relaunch his grand coalition government ended with right-wing parties joining the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) in deserting him.


Albania's post-communist dream has lessons for Ukraine

Comparisons between post-communist Albania and current-day Ukraine are fascinating — and make many pertinent parallels. Ukrainians have a similar determination to belong to "the rest of Europe" as Albanians.


Finally, the victims of Utøya got a memorial

A legal battle between locals on the one hand and the state and the labour youth organisation on the other side postponed the inception of the memorial in remembrance of the victims of Anders Behring Breivik.

News in Brief

  1. Zelensky vows to 'target' Russian soldiers at nuclear plant
  2. Putin vows greater cooperation with North Korea and Taliban
  3. Hungarian judge slams Orbán's rule-of-law attacks
  4. Borrell condemns 'despicable' Rushdie attack
  5. Slow wind-farm approvals risk green goals, warns industry
  6. Increase in people crossing Channel to UK in 2022
  7. Swedish government to toughen gang-crime penalties
  8. Germany to help nationals cope with energy price spike

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Latest News

  1. Germany needs to cut gas use by 20% to stave off winter crisis
  2. Europe's wildfire destruction set to hit new record
  3. How Putin and Erdoğan are making the West irrelevant
  4. Defying Russian bombs, Ukraine football starts 2022 season
  5. Sweden to extradite man wanted by Turkey
  6. EU must beware Beijing's new charm offensive
  7. Forest fire near Bordeaux forces over 10,000 to flee
  8. Estonia and Latvia sever China club ties

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us