29th Sep 2023

Socialist MEP defends own side jobs after voting to ban others

  • MEP side jobs increasing risk of conflict of interests, says campaigners (Photo: European Parliament)
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Socialists in the European Parliament have pushed for a ban on lobbying by MEPs, but their own vice-chair says his consultancy side jobs are just fine.

Marek Belka is vice-president of the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament.

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He also draws a monthly salary from a consultancy firm and postings at supervisory boards, according to his declaration of financial interests.

He has been on the supervisory board of the pharmaceutical firm Pelion since December 2022, is the owner of the company M Consulting, and sits on the board of Vienna Insurance Group (VIG).

He was also on the board of a real-estate firm called EPP until January 2022.

It could add up to anything between €96,000 to €300,000 per year on top of his EU Parliament salary, his 2020 declaration indicated.

This makes him among the top five side-job earners in Brussels, according to NGO Transparency International EU, in a practice which poses questions on conflict of interest and democratic integrity.

The centre-right EPP group has 176 MEPs with side-jobs, followed by the socialists (142), the Renew Europe liberals (101), the Greens (72), the conservative ECR (66), the far-right Identity and Democracy (62), and the Left (37).

But for all that, Belka and all but two fellow socialists voted in Strasbourg last week for an amendment to ban MEPs from holding the kind of EU-influencer side jobs that would need to be declared in the European Commission's Transparency Register — a Brussels lobbyist database.

The amendment was part of wider changes to the parliament's internal rule book, amid efforts to clean things up in the wake of the Qatargate corruption scandal.

Most of the EPP and Liberals opposed the ban, which failed to pass, saddening pro-transparency campaigners.

But the fact Belka and many other socialists have their own lucrative side hustles, begs the question of whether they were voting in good faith.

For his part, Belka said his position made sense because his own side jobs were not the kind covered by the failed ban.

"I am indeed engaged in additional paid activities, however, none of them constitute a breach in the revised guidelines to my knowledge," he told EUobserver by email on Tuesday (19 September).

"I have never engaged in any lobbying activities in the name of any entity during my work in the European Parliament and towards any other EU institution and I do not intend to do it in the future," he added.

"I do not believe that my activity in the VIG and Pelion S.A. falls within the Transparency Register as my engagement is purely focused on financial and business oversight over its entities," he also said.

Referring to M Consulting, Belka said: "I use it for one purpose only — to clear my engagements as a public speaker. My clients are various Polish and international companies".

"To be crystal clear, the nature of each of those contracts was only to deliver a speech and answer questions, no additional activities, such as consulting or lobbying services, were ever delivered to any company," Belka told this website.

The Polish politician is a major figure in the socialist group because of his glittering career.

He is a former prime minister of Poland, a former finance minister, a former director at the International Monetary Fund, and once presided over Poland's national bank.

The Warsaw Stock Exchange even erected a bronze bust in his honour in 2014.

And its figurehead MEP aside, the wider socialist group also defended its position on the post-Qatargate clean-up.

"At the committee vote and in plenary, we pushed for any remunerated activities to be included as part of mandatory declarations," said a spokesperson from the socialist group.

"The point is about making sure there is full transparency and accountability over members outside activities," he said.

But if that is the case, the group might have more work to do to get its own house in order, given that Belka's own EU Parliament declaration was also below par.

The €96,000 to €300,000 figure he is citing for extra income appears to date from 2020 and may well no longer be valid.

He had also kept the name of M Consulting hidden until recently.

And for Transparency International EU, Belka's obfuscation on his own financial interests is symbolic of the wider problems in the EU assembly.

"This is a clear example of what we pointed to in our brief: these declarations are imprecise, and it is almost impossible to know what the MEP is up to," said Shari Hinds, a policy officer at Transparency International EU.

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