Wednesday

25th Jan 2017

MEPs push for oversight on commissioners

  • Pascal Durand, the Green MEP that wants to control commissioners through better scrutiny of interest declarations (Photo: European Parliament)

One week after revelations that former EU commissioner Neelie Kroes had failed to declare her directorship of an offshore firm in 10 years in office, the European Parliament took a small step toward strengthening oversight.

One of parliament’s smallest groups, the Greens, has proposed that the assembly should, in future, have the right to block candidates from conflicted portfolios or, in extreme cases, if they failed to come clean on their financial interests, from assuming office.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Dariusz Rosati, the Polish EPP politician, says the next Kroes case is best avoided by cracking down on tax avoidance (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU parliament already holds hearings with commissioner-designates, and can blackball candidates if they do not know their portfolio or for political reasons.

But its power to vet candidates over conflicts of interest is symbolic.

On paper, commissioner-hopefuls have to submit declarations of interest for scrutiny by the parliament’s legal affairs committee (Juri).

But Juri MEPs “can only check whether declaration forms have been filled out, signed and dated in the proper format,” Pascal Durand, a French MEP in the Green group who drafted the new oversight proposals, told this website.

Referring to the hearings of commissioner-designates, he added: “We can ask questions to evaluate a candidate's political abilities, but it’s not a suitable method for probing vested interests”.

The debate on oversight comes after revelations, dubbed Bahamas leaks, last week, that Kroes failed to declare directorship of a Bahama-registered company with interests in the US energy sector.

Kroes admitted wrongdoing, but blamed a ”clerical” error.

The current climate change commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, has also prompted oversight questions.

Shortly before the summer recess, Juri summoned Canete to ask why he had failed to declare his wife’s offshore firm, as revealed in the Panama Papers leaks.

Independent special body

He said the firm was “dormant”, but left-wing and green MEPs said he avoided hard questions.

The controversies risk further damaging EU institutions’ credibility, at a time of heightened scrutiny after Brexit.

Durand's report on EU parliament oversight was well received by other groups at a Juri hearing on Monday (26 September).

He told EUobserver the European Commission was wrong to rely on commissioner’s good faith on declarations of interest.

But he added that even if his proposals were adopted, they would not be enough to stop commissioners hiding assets.

”For that, we would need an independent special body with human and financial resources, which would have the right to investigate public officials and to pronounce sanctions," said the French MEP.

The centre-left S&D group, the second largest in the EU parliament, threw its weight behind Durand’s report on Monday.

Loopholes in tax laws

But the centre-right EPP, the largest bloc, said the problem didn't come from the EU institutions.

Tadeusz Zwiefka, a Polish centre-right MEP, said the responsibility lay with member states as they nominated the candidates in the first place.

"It's us who are taking the fire for Neelie Kroes," he said, "instead of the Dutch government that appointed her."

Dariusz Rosati, another Polish centre-right MEP, said loopholes in international tax law were to blame.

”Ms Kroes’ name is of course headline-grabbing but we should look to the cause of this mess, namely insufficient international cooperation on tax issues,” he told EUobserver.

Rosati is the EPP spokesman in the Pana committee, a new organ created to investigate the truth behind the Panama Papers and Bahamas leaks, which starts work on Tuesday.

News in Brief

  1. VW's internal Dieselgate probe not yet done
  2. Israel defies EU policy with huge settlement expansion
  3. Martin Schulz to be candidate for German chancellor
  4. EU commission gives MEPs Dieselgate paper at last moment
  5. EU parliament committee backs EU-Canada deal
  6. UK MPs must vote on Brexit trigger, court rules
  7. Greek island mayors plead for the transfer of migrants
  8. Tzipi Livni cancels Brussels trip amid war crimes probe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsKyrgyzstan: no Justice for Human Rights Defender Azimjan Askarov
  2. Dialogue PlatformThe Influence of Turkish Politics in Europe After the Coup Attempt
  3. World VisionEU Urged to do Better Ahead of Helsinki Conference on Syria
  4. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  5. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  6. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  7. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  8. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  9. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  10. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  11. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  12. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism

Latest News

  1. No Turkey-type migrant deal with Libya, says EU commission
  2. EU to Trump: Protectionism is 'doomed to fail'
  3. The French town that swung from socialist to far-right
  4. UK parliament must give Brexit approval, judges rule
  5. 'No indication' VW used EU loans to cheat
  6. Fillon promotes pro-Russia views in Berlin
  7. Dutch PM tells people to 'act normal, or go away'
  8. EU to step up effort against Russian and Islamist propaganda