MEPs hope to restore public trust with ethics code
In the wake of a cash-for-ammendments scandal, the European Parliament on Thursday (1 December) adopted a
new code of conduct that bans MEPs from asking or accepting money in exchange for influencing legislation.
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"Increased powers of the European Parliament must be accompanied by an increased transparency and accountability of its members," parliament chief Jerzy Buzek told reporters.
Under the rulebook, MEPs are not allowed to "solicit, accept or receive any direct or indirect financial benefit or other reward in exchange for influencing, or voting on, legislation, motions for a resolution, written declarations or questions tabled in Parliament or any of its committees, and shall consciously seek to avoid any situation which might imply bribery."
Back in March, two MEPs resigned and one was expelled from his political group and stripped of parliamentary immunity after having accepted money from Sunday Times journalists posing as lobbyists in exchange for placing specific amendments.
Buzek said the Sunday Times investigation had created a "momentum" to push for the new ethics code, which also requires detailed declarations of jobs held by an MEP before taking office and other paid activities once elected. But he insisted that the code would have been crafted even without such pressure, so as to increase public trust in the EU legislature, whose powers have been boosted by the Lisbon Treaty.
EU deputies will also be forced to turn down any gift or benefit valued at more than €150.
Should the code be breached, an MEP would face sanctions ranging from a written warning to a dock in pay equivalent to earnings from up to 10 days, suspension of their activities with the exception of the right to vote for up to 10 days or the loss of office privileges within the parliament.
They cannot lose their seat, however, as it is an elected office, unless found guilty of criminal charges resulting in a prison sentence in their home country.
The impact of these sanctions will not be negligible, said British Liberal MEP Diana Wallis, noting that any breach of the code will be posted in "flashing red" on the parliament's website for all constituents to see.
"There is a growing gap between the public and the parliament, especially now with the economic crisis. We wanted to show that not all politicians are crooks, that there are morals and ethics in politics," Czech centre-left MEP Libor Roucek said.
Even as they welcomed the code as a step forward, anti-corruption campaigners also pointed out that MEPs are not banned from holding other paid jobs on the side and that there are no strong rules on 'revolving doors' - where former deputies go immediately into business after ending their mandate and use contacts and influence gained during their time in the legislature.
"We should go further and prohibit paid membership on company boards or other side-jobs, with the exception of teaching or similar activities," Romanian centre-right MEP Monica Macovei told this website.
Transparency International, which just published a corruption perception index showing that most EU countries are backsliding, warned that no real change will be possible if the code is not enforced "rigorously".
The watchdog pointed to the lack of a "cooling off" provision, preventing MEPs from moving straight into lobbying jobs after the end of their term.
"Moreover, the code does not outlaw all secondary employment that creates a conflict of interest. Nor does it include an obligation for MEPs to keep a record of all significant meetings with [lobbyists] in connection with their work," the group said.