Sunday

1st May 2016

Belgian MEP and ex-PM under spotlight for beer money

  • Belgian centre-right MEP Jean-Luc Dehaene says he should not have to declare his 77,000 stock options because they are part of his "patrimonium" (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Belgian euro-deputy and ex-prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene has denied delaying full disclosure of his financial interests as required by the parliament's code of conduct.

Dehaene cashed in on some 77,000 stock options in April granted to him by the world's largest brewer, AB InBev. He also sat on the AB InBev board until March 2011.

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The shares then appeared on his declaration of financial interest at the parliament on 4 October, raising concerns among pro-transparency groups on possible conflicts of interests if he should vote on EU legislation that could affect the brewing industry.

Recent media reports claim the AB InBev options are worth over €5 million, a sum Dehaene denies.

"Mr Dehaene chooses not to comment on the current value of these options; he only wishes to say that their value is much lower than the amount mentioned," a spokeswoman from the centre-right EPP group told this website in an email.

MEPs are supposed to declare and make public "any occasional remunerated outside activity" that exceeds €5,000 annually.

Dehaene argues the shares "are part of his patrimonium and the code of conduct does not require patrimonium to be declared."

But the parliament's advisory group on conduct advised him to declare the shares anyway.

The spokeswoman said the advisory group had told him "the scope of the current code of conduct needs to be detailed further with regard to stock option schemes. Mr Dehaene's previous declaration of interests was therefore not wrong."

Meanwhile, Natacha Cingotti at pro-transparency NGO Friends of the Earth Europe said Dehaene’s argument "is a very loose interpretation of the code of conduct because it is clear that they [MEPs] must declare everything."

The code says MEPs should act solely in the public interest and refrain from obtaining or seeking to obtain any direct or indirect financial benefit or other reward.

The NGO, along with a handful of other pro-transparency groups, had sent EU parliament chief Martin Schulz a letter in May detailing their concerns on Dehaene's links to industry, his generated profits and failure to disclose his stock options at the time.

"We are still waiting for a response," said Cingotti.

The groups then sent another joint letter on Tuesday (9 October) asking Schulz how parliament authorities can prevent conflict of interest in Dehaene's case.

MEPs and consultants

The case is not unique.

Centre right German MEPs Markus Ferber, Klaus-Heiner Lehne and Burkhard Balz work for consultancy groups.

Ferber works for Swiss-based K&S consultants and earns anywhere between €1,001 and €5,000 a month for the work. The company specialises in energy and infrastructure projects.

Lehne is a partner at Taylor Wessing Dusseldorf and earns more than €10,000 a month for his services.

The company provides legal services to dozens of different industry sectors. Lehne's specialty is competition law.

Taylor Wessing Dusseldorf its anti-trust lawyers do work "defending clients in cartel investigations, exploring new avenues to the resolution of disputes, or influencing sector inquiries."

Balz declared getting paid to lecture at the Reinsurance Group of America, European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, among others.

Correction: The original version of the article stated that German centre-right MEP Burkhard Balz still draws a salary from his former employer Commerzbank AG. This is incorrect. In fact, Balz is a member of the advisory board at MuP Holding, a group that provides consultancy, project management and engineering services. He is also "ombudsman" at Bausparkasse Schwäbisch Hall, a home savings and loan company.

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