MEPs not serious about transparency
From frivolous responses, illegible scrawls, to no answers at all, several members of the European Parliament are not serious when it comes to declaring their financial interests, a survey carried out by an NGO has shown.
The lack of clear rules prohibiting MEPs to keep side jobs as consultants made headlines last year when the Sunday Times uncovered three deputies willing to take money from lobbyists in return for placing amendments.
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Following the so-called cash-for-amendments scandal, the Parliament adopted an ethics code and, while not banning side jobs, made it mandatory to declare any other occupations in a "declaration of financial interests" posted on the Parliament's website.
But six months after they were introduced, Friends of the Earth Europe, a Brussels-based NGO focusing on transparency issues, has discovered that many of the declarations are empty or contain bogus information.
The NGO reviewed the declarations of all 754 MEPs and found that 11.7 percent of them were empty, meaning that 88 deputies only filled in their names, without answering basic questions such as their previous occupation. Almost 25 percent of MEPs did not mention any job in the three years prior to their mandate.
Among those who filled in the form is Danish Liberal MEP Jens Rohde who claims in his declaration that three years before taking office he was "master of the universe" with a monthly salary above €10,000.
Brice Hortefeux, a French centre-right MEP, fails to mention he was a minister of immigration, labour and home affairs under Nicolas Sarkozy's government, prior to taking up his job in the Parliament.
As for Adrian Severin, the only one of the three MEPs in the cash-for-amendments scandal who did not step down, he lists working as a consultant for a lawyer's firm of former justice minister Catalin Predoiu, as member of the Romanian court of arbitration, as a law professor and columnist - all paid between €500-1000 a month.
Friends of the Earth Europe note that the only body looking at these declarations is an advisory committee, but that it can only do so when an MEP asks for guidance or when the president of the Parliament asks for it.
A problem also arises from the fact that almost 65 percent of the declarations are handwritten and in some cases the declaration is illegible. Since there is no database compiling this data, the only way of finding out how many MEPs have second jobs, membership of boards or committees, or other remunerated activities, is by investigating all of the 754 declarations.
Friends of the Earth Europe found that a majority of MEPs has financial interests outside the Parliament: 15.7 percent say they have paid jobs outside the parliament, 51.5 percent mention mostly unpaid memberships of boards and committees, six percent declare holdings in companies or partnerships.
The NGO calls on Parliament President Martin Schulz to "initiate a review to assess if external financial or non-financial interests could result in potential conflicts of interest for MEPs."
"As MEPs have to decide on policies and legislation touching upon a wide range of issues, it is crucial that they do not have outside financial interests - such as paid side jobs or shares in companies - that might influence their decisions," the NGO said in its report.
It also advised the Parliament to make an online database that is searchable and declarations written in native tongues to be translated in English, French or German so that journalists and citizens can search them more easily.
They call on Schulz to investigate if the data provided is correct and take action if it is not the case.
"Finally, we propose to extend the mandate of the advisory committee to not only provide advice on how to fill in the declarations of financial interests, but also to undertake random checks to assess the accuracy of the submitted declarations and investigate any potential conflict of interest."