Tuesday

26th Jan 2021

Survey: Half of EU staff 'don't know' ethics rules

  • The Court of Auditors ethics report also recommended that scrutiny of MEPs self-declarations of interest is increased - something the Parliament rejected (Photo: European Parliament)

EU staff need to be better informed about their institutions' rules on ethical behaviour, the European Court of Auditors said in a report published Friday (19 July).

Only about half of staff said in a survey they had either good or in-depth knowledge of their own institution's ethical framework, while less than half said their employer had given them any ethics training.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 80 percent of staff members of the European Parliament said they had never attended any ethics trainings (Photo: European Parliament)

The auditors found, however, that the European Commission, the Council of the EU, and European Parliament had "to a large extent (...) established adequate ethical frameworks with room for improvement".

But it noted that rules alone were not enough.

"Instead, [EU institutions] must support their ambitions by developing an appropriate culture of integrity. Such a culture can only develop if the people working for the organisation are equipped with the necessary ethical skills and knowledge, and if they see the organisation's commitment to ethics," the report noted.

The court - which is not an actual court, but the EU's official audit body - conducted a survey among 798 staff members working at the three institutions, the EU's most important ones.

Staff at the commission were most confident about their knowledge of the ethical framework applicable within their institution: almost 60 percent said they had "good knowledge" of it.

By contrast, only 26 percent of those working in the European Parliament (EP) said the same.

Almost 17 percent of EP staff said they had never heard about an ethical framework, while 55 percent said that had heard about it but did not know much about it.

The staff who said they knew least about ethics also were less exposed to trainings about the issue.

Some 82 percent of EP staff said they had never attended any ethics courses, seminars, or sessions, while half of all commission staff and a third of council staff said they had.

Most respondents to the survey said they would recognise unethical conduct when they saw it, but almost 30 percent of EU staff said they would not feel safe reporting on an ethical issue.

MEPs' assistants

In particular assistants to MEPs were hesitant about reporting ethics issues.

The court theorised that this could be because assistants are often on temporary contracts, as well as depending "in terms of career prospects, on their MEP".

"Reluctance to report ethical issues may also result from a lack of knowledge about the relevant procedures and safeguards," the report said.

They were also asked what they thought of the statement "the ethical culture in my institution is strong".

More than 60 percent of commission staff agreed; 58 percent of council staff did; while less than 50 percent in the EU parliament agreed.

Almost one-in-three EU parliament respondents said they disagreed.

In response to the audit report, all three EU institutions said they were already planning or implementing efforts to improve knowledge of the rules on ethical behaviour.

Conflicts of interests

However, some of the court's other recommendations were rejected.

The court said that the parliament should increase their scrutiny of the conflicts of interest declarations of MEPs.

The Code of Conduct for MEPs established an Advisory Committee on the Conduct of Members, which can assess conflict of interest cases at the request of the parliament's president or the MEP in question.

"No other checks on the accuracy and completeness and/or assessment of the MEP's declarations are set out in the parliament's procedures," the court noted.

The court said that the "main safeguard" on the declarations of MEPs was that they were public and could receive "the attention of the stakeholders, the media and the wider public".

This is what happened when EUobserver reported earlier this month potential conflicts of interests among Brexit Party members and the newly appointed members of the parliament's agriculture committee.

"The lack of written standard procedure for checks on members' declarations creates a risk of obligations being interpreted inconsistently, and means that the institution is less likely to identify inaccuracies and other issues before they attract public attention, potentially jeopardising public trust," said the court.

But the EU parliament rejected the recommendation for additional checks.

"Any further-reaching requirements to check accuracy and completeness ex officio would entail the need for significant staff increases and/or investigative powers, none of which are available," said the parliament in its right-of-reply attached to the report.

It said such checks would require up to approximately 60 additional staff members.

"Also, it should be noted that parliament has no powers of investigation over MEPs, who are accountable to the voters, and must respect the free mandate," it added.

Investigation

Farmers among new MEPs deciding on EU farming money

Renew Europe MEP Asger Christensen, from Denmark, earns €20,000 per month as a farmer. He became a member of the agriculture committee, which could create a conflict of interest situation.

Conflicts of interest loom for Brexit Party MEPs

New Brexit Party MEP June Alison Mummery is the director of a company active in the fishing industry. She just joined the EU parliament's fisheries committee as a substitute member.

Commission tightens rules after Barrosogate

The European Commission has proposed tighter rules for its members after their term finishes, amid a long-lasting row over Jose Manuel Barroso's job at Goldman Sachs.

Portugal's EU presidency marks return of corporate sponsors

Last year's German EU presidency refused corporate sponsorships. But the new Portuguese presidency has decided they are needed and has signed three contracts. One of them is with one of Europe's largest paper companies, The Navigator Company.

Feature

EU Parliament: Strasbourg, or the climate?

A report of the European Parliament's environmental management unit proposes a treaty change to move the European Parliament's headquarters from Strasbourg to Brussels - in order for the institution to become climate-neutral by 2030.

Opinion

German presidency's broken promises on 'fair tax'

At the start of the German presidency of the EU Council it committed itself to a "fair taxation" agenda. But as we enter the final leg of its six-month term, time is running out to make good on this promise.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. Giuseppe Conte: scapegoat or Italy's most cunning politician?
  2. Borrell to meet Lavrov, while Navalny behind bars
  3. Too few central and eastern Europeans at top of EU
  4. Rift widens on 'returns' deadline in EU migration pact
  5. EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map
  6. Migrants in Bosnia: a disaster foretold on EU doorstep
  7. Navalny protests sharpen EU sanctions talks
  8. Why Russia politics threaten European security

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us