Saturday

3rd Dec 2016

MEPs propose partial ban on second jobs

  • The European Parliament in Strasbourg. Many MEPs hold second jobs. (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament is moving toward a partial ban on second jobs for MEPs following a vote on Tuesday (8 November) in the constitutional affairs committee.

The latest text is part of a larger report by Richard Corbett, a British Labour deputy, and only affects MEPs whose second job involves lobbying the EU parliament, however.

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Corbett told EUobserver that “we cannot, according to the legal advice that we had, ban second jobs in general” because that would involve rewriting MEP statutes with the agreement of EU member states.

The move is designed to restrict insider influence by MEPs that hold industry jobs and shape EU laws in the same field.

It comes in the wake of a public outcry over cronyism after former European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso took a job with US bank Goldman Sachs and former digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes took a post with US transport firm Uber.

EU parliament lawyers last month in an internal document said MEPs had a fundamental right to choose an occupation, engage in work, and conduct business.

That means that even partial restrictions, as in Corbett's report, are likely to face a hurdle when they go to a plenary vote in December.

"Maybe it’s grey area legally, but we are pushing as far as we can legally because it relates to the functioning of the parliament itself," said Corbett.

"We think we can get away with putting it in our rules that members are prohibited from taking jobs that involve lobbying the parliament."

Rules of procedure

Corbett's "rules of procedures" report on how the European Parliament operates was not initially supposed to deal with the side-job issue.

That task had been delegated to German Green Sven Giegold, whose report was scrapped following opposition from some centre-right MEPs.

The amendment on slapping a ban on second jobs was weakened and then inserted into Corbett's report instead.

Giegold welcomed the partial ban on second jobs, but he said lobby transparency remained murky.

"Even rapporteurs and committee chairs may keep secret which lobbyists they meet or which written lobby input they get," he said.

Not good enough

Civil groups like Transparency International (TI) and Friends of the Earth Europe say the latest effort on second jobs falls short.

"With EU ethics in the spotlight after Barroso and Kroes, you would think MEPs would take the chance to change the rules of the game. Today’s vote was another missed opportunity," said TI's Daniel Freund.

Freund said meaningless second job descriptions such as “consultant” or “freelancer” needed to be explained.

"The one glimmer of hope from today’s vote was clearer wording against MEPs actively lobbying their colleagues for profit," he said.

Myriam Douo from Friends of the Earth Europe made similar comments. She said an MEP can, for example, sit on the board of an energy company and be a member of the Parliament's environment committee at the same time.

"It is not considered a problem, we don't see like that, for us, it is a problem," she said.

Some 170 MEPs draw on an outside income on top of their monthly wages as euro-deputies, according to Integrity Watch. The top earners come from France, followed by Germany, and the UK.

Deputies also will not have to leave behind a legislative footprint despite efforts from the Greens to have those included into the Corbett report.

At the same time, the Corbett report increases the parliament's scrutiny power over EU commissioners.

But unlike commissioners, MEPs are not restricted by any cooling off period once they leave office.

MEP barred from questioning Oettinger on plane trip

The Hungarian Green MEP who uncovered EU Commissioner Oettinger's flight to Budapest on a private plane of a lobbyist was not allowed to ask the German politician on the issue in the EP.

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