Wednesday

26th Jun 2019

US Congress has stronger ethics oversight than EU Parliament

  • Enforcement of ethics and codes of conduct in the EU parliament is almost non-existent. (Photo: European Parliament)

The US Congress has stronger ethics and oversight of lawmakers than their counterparts in the European Parliament.

The findings, among others, were revealed in a report out Tuesday (10 July) by the European branch of Transparency International, an NGO.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Daniel Freund, who authored the report, told reporters in Brussels that unlike MEPs, members of the US congress are banned from holding second or third jobs.

"They are not allowed to work as lawyers, consultants, let alone lobbyists and any kind of payment to them, any kind of revenue that could be reasonably seen as a channel to get money to a member of Congress is prohibited," he said.

Income that is earned such as on book deals is capped at 15 percent, with the rest going into the US federal budget.

The European Parliament, however, has members that collectively earned up to €41m from side jobs since mid-2014.

This includes Italian socialist MEP Renato Soru, who tops the money list with €1.5m from his work as director of the Italian telecommunications company he founded, Tiscali.

But, by political group, the largest number of side earners are found in the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), composed of virulent anti-EU, far-right populist MEPs ranging from the Italian League to Austria's Freedom Party (FPO).

These wages come on top of their public salaries and generous monthly expense allowance, posing broader questions on conflicts of interest and the total lack of sanctions against those that have clearly breached parliamentary code of conduct rules.

MEPs in their declarations of interest are only required to provide basic one word descriptions such as 'freelancer' or 'entrepreneur', making it difficult to discern any wrongdoing.

Indeed, one Danish liberal MEP had in 2012 declared himself 'Master of the Universe' in his declaration.

Others, like former European commissioner turned centre-right MEP Viviane Reding, Austrian centre-right MEP Paul Rubig, and Dutch socialist MEP Agnes Jongerius, hold paid positions in organisations listed in the EU lobby register.

Reding left the commission to stand as an MEP in May 2014, and since being elected has taken up board positions at Bertelsmann Foundation, among others.

The European Parliament prohibits MEPs from being paid lobbyists. Transparency International has asked all three to explain their positions but received no response.

Freund described the parliament's ethics oversight as "dysfunctional", noting that the assembly's president Antonio Tajani, in charge of dishing out any punishment, has yet to act on any pending cases.

Parliament also skirts rules on MEPs taking up jobs after they leave office in areas they legislated on, known as a 'cooling off' period.

"There are also cooling off periods in the [US] House and in the Senate to prevent any ethics conflicts when they leave office - again, in the European parliament, there are hardly no rules whatsoever," said Freund.

His report also looked at oversight bodies in France and Canada, both of which are far tougher than the European Parliament.

France set up its own authority to probe abuse following media revelations that the government's budget minister had stashed money in secret Swiss bank accounts. It now has access to information like tax declarations and land and real estate registries.

Silence - EU parliament's defence of choice

The European Parliament also set up its own authority following a cash-for-amendments scandal in 2011. But the body, made up of sitting MEPs, can only provide guidance and recommendations for Tajani to impose sanctions.

Such sanctions range from having MEP per diem payments docked, to being stripped of chairing parliamentary committees.

Out of the 24 breaches that reached Tajani or his predecessor, Martin Schulz, only one has resulted in a reprimand, given to German far-right MEP Udo Voigt over his failure to disclose a trip abroad.

Tajani's spokesman has yet to respond to this website why the oversight within the parliament is considered so weak.

Nor have some of the biggest earners listed in TI's report responded, including French MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser who earns up to €470,000 as a consultant for MWD Dubai. Schaffhauser belongs to the National Rally, the former National Front.

This latest revelation comes in the wake of a decision last week by most of the European Parliament leadership to keep the public in the dark of how MEPs spend some €40m of taxpayer money on daily expenses like hotels and restaurants.

It also follows other scandals where MEPs have committed fraud using EU taxpayer money to pay salaries of people not working for the EU institutions.

Exclusive

How eight MEPs overruled 540 colleagues on office expenses

The EU parliament spends €40m a year on a lump sum for MEPs' expenses with barely any scrutiny. A majority of parliamentarians called for more transparency - but a handful of powerful MEPs mostly dismissed that request.

EU parliament to keep public in dark on MEP expenses

Every year, MEPs spend some €40m of taxpayer money on things like restaurants and hotels amid public pressure for accountability, given numerous scandals. On Monday, EU parliament leaders decided to keep the public in the dark.

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.

New 'ID' far-right EU parliament group falls short

The new far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) political group fails to muster enough support among other eurosceptics to become a heavyweight in the European Parliament. But with 73 MEPs, from nine EU states, it managed to secure the fifth spot.

Malta's ex-commissioner loses court case against EU

John Dalli was ousted as European Commissioner for health in 2012 over a tobacco-lobbying scandal. On Thursday, the general court of the European Union dismissed his case against the European Commission.

Analysis

Sibiu: EU leaders prepare post-Brexit show of unity

With the European elections just three weeks away, the EU-27 will try to set the agenda for the next years for the EU institutions. But with persisting divisions on key issues, unity will be an achievement in itself.

News in Brief

  1. EU universities to share students, curricula
  2. Migrant rescue ship loses Human Rights Court appeal
  3. Denmark completes social democrat sweep of Nordics
  4. Johnson offers 'do or die' pledge on Brexit
  5. Weber indirectly attacks Macron in newspaper op-ed
  6. EU to sign free trade deal with Vietnam
  7. EU funding of air traffic control 'largely unnecessary'
  8. Share trading ban looms as Swiss row with EU escalates

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

Explained: What is the European Parliament?

While domestic political parties often use the European Parliament as a dumping ground for unwanted politicians - and a majority of citizens don't bother to vote - the parliament, over the years, has become a dominant force in the EU.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  4. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  6. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  7. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  8. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  9. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate

Latest News

  1. EU moves to end car-testing 'confidentiality clause'
  2. EU parliament gives extra time for leaders on top jobs
  3. Europe's rights watchdog lifts Russia sanctions
  4. EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights
  5. EU 'special envoy' going to US plan for Palestine
  6. Polish judicial reforms broke EU law, court says
  7. EU study: no evidence of 'East vs West' food discrimination
  8. Russia tried to stir up Irish troubles, US think tank says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us