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17th Aug 2022

EU Commission to probe Kroes' Uber lobbying

  • The European Commission is probing its former vice-president Neelie Kroes over alleged ethics breaches (Photo: Neelie Kroes)
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The European Commission says it has reached out to Dutch former commissioner Neelie Kroes for her role at the controversial Uber car-riding firm.

"What I can announce for now is that the commission has decided to send a letter to the former vice-president Kroes," a commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels on Monday (11 July).

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"We will not be detailing the information that was stated in this letter," he said, noting the commission could take weeks to analyse before reaching any definitive conclusions.

The controversy exploded following this week's revelations that Kroes had breached the commission's ethics rules.

Those revelations were based on 124,000 internal Uber records leaked to the Guardian newspaper and shared with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The rules require former commissioners refrain from lobbying for some 18 months after leaving office.

Kroes left the European Commission in October 2014. Once the 18 months were over, she joined Uber's advisory board.

But she allegedly lobbied for Uber during the 18 months, a so-called cooling period, anyway.

The revelations suggest she tried to get Dutch authorities to halt an investigation into Uber.

She also tried setting up a meeting between Uber and a European Commissioner in May 2016.

Kroes has denied any wrongdoing.

Kroes' offshore holdings

At a speech delivered on social justice in 2009, she slammed companies that rely on well-connected politicians.

"We are not getting more social justice, we are getting less," she had said.

Her tough talk earned her the moniker "Steelie Neelie".

That statement now appears to stand in sharp contrast to the latest media expose.

It is also not the first time Kroes has waded into controversy.

In 2016, she walked out of an interview when a Belgian journalist questioned her integrity after landing a job on the advisory board of Uber.

A few months later, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed she was director of the offshore company Mint Holdings Ltd.

Based in the Bahamas tax haven, Kroes had failed to declare it during the 10 years of her tenure at the EU commission , first as competition chief (2004-10) and then as digital agenda commissioner up until 2014.

Kroes' lawyer told media that she had not declared she was director of Mint Holdings Ltd between 2000 and 2009 due to a "clerical oversight".

The Bahamas leak and the link to Kroes occurred shortly after former EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso landed a job at Goldman Sachs.

Such positions, dubbed revolving doors, are controversial because they tend to sway legislation in favour of corporate interests who can afford to hire senior ex public officials.

EU ethics body going nowhere

The European Parliament last year asked the European Commission to propose an independent ethics body to help stop the abuse.

But the European Commission says it is still in a consultation phase with other EU institutions, notably the Council, representing member states.

It declined to give any timeline when it would make a proposal on the body.

It is also unclear if it will include a ban on former commissioners lobbying national ministers.

"It is more at the stage of consulting with the other institutions," said a commission spokesperson.

Others are taking a more proactive stand on the Kroes' Uber lobbying.

Among them is Dutch socialist MEP Paul Tang, who chairs the parliament's committee dealing with tax issues.

In a tweet, Tang said he would file a complaint with European Commission president Von der Leyen.

"The @EU_Commission must come into action and defend the EUs integrity," he said.

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