Friday

27th Nov 2020

Swedish candidate adds heat to EU ombudsman vote

  • Cecilia Wikström, the Swedish former MEP, defended her roles with two outside companies on Tuesday (Photo: European Parliament)

"I have not been a lobbyist, am not, and never will be. Full stop," the Swedish woman who wants to oversee good conduct by EU institutions, Cecilia Wikström, said in Brussels on Tuesday (3 December).

Wikström, a 54-year politician from Sweden's Liberal People's Party, is paid €7,000 a month by two Swedish firms called Beijer Alma and Elekta, which make industrial parts and do radiotherapy.

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

And when Matt Carthy, an Irish nationalist MEP, asked her what they paid for if not her "influence", Wikström replied by quoting one of her Elekta colleagues.

"Once a person from ... Elekta, which is fighting cancer on all the continents of this world with its radiation medicine, said: 'We already have [professional] lobbyists in Brussels and we don't wan't her [Wikström's] role to be about that'," she said.

"They [Beijer Alma and Elekta] need me for some common sense," she added.

She has promised to give up her side-jobs if she wins the ombudsman title, which, anyway bears a smaller risk of financial conflict of interest than other EU top posts.

But Wikström's entry into the race has generated extra heat than ombudsman hearings normally see.

The campaign team of Emily O'Reilly, an Irish former journalist who currently holds the post, circulated a photo of Wikström with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to hammer home its message that "Ms. Wikström was a corporate lobbyist".

And it was like deja vu of the Sylvie Goulard fiasco for one German Green MEP.

Deja vu?

The European Parliament rejected Sylvie Goulard, France's first pick for EU single market commissioner, in November, in part because of her lucrative side-job.

Even Wikström's own Liberal People's Party removed her from its list in the last EP elections in May due to her Beijer Alma and Elekta income.

And "the parallel [with Goulard] is quite obvious" Daniel Freund, the German MEP, told EUobserver on Wednesday.

"She [Wikström] is really just not the right candidate," Freund said.

The EP petitions committee also cross-examined four other hopefuls on Tuesday, prior to a plenary vote in December on who gets the ombudsman post.

The candidates included Julia Laffranque, an Estonian judge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, a pan-European tribunal, who became a favourite after earlier getting 90 MEPs to back her.

They also included O'Reilly, who got 84 MEPs, Giuseppe Fortunato, an Italian ombudsman (49 MEPs), and Nils Muižnieks, a former human rights inspector (43).

Wikström got 47 signatures.

She is said to have the backing of the centre-right European People's Party, the EP's largest bloc, as well that of her liberal Renew group.

But the December vote will be a secret ballot, leaving MEPs more free to follow their conscience than the whip's line.

'Little' rule

The EP, in February, also voted to bar former MEPs from running for EU ombudsman until after a three-year "cooling off period" to make the office politically impartial.

Wikström herself, who was still an MEP in February, voted for the new rules in the so-called 'Rangel report'.

But when asked on Tuesday why she had now changed her mind, Wikström replied she had never liked the three-year rule and had waved it through only because she thought it would never be adopted.

The 'Rangel rule' on cooling off is currently being discussed by MEPs and EU officials in behind-closed-doors talks in Brussels called "trilogues".

And this "particular little piece of a few lines" will probably be taken out in the end, Wikström predicted.

"I have proven that I am an impartial person. Impartiality is a virtue," she said.

"So you voted for something publicly in the hope that it would be diluted in the trilogue negotiations. Is that not the type of thing that the EU ombudsman should be a bulwark against?", Carthy, the Irish MEP, also said.

Opinion

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Agenda

New commission and Malta in focus This WEEK

Ursula von der Leyen and her new team of commissioners will have their first meeting on Wednesday. In the meantime, Malta descends into political turmoil over the death of an investigative journalist.

Exclusive

Ombudsman backs EUobserver on MEP expenses

The European Parliament should have granted access to documents on a decision about how transparent MEPs should be in future with their office expenses, says EU Ombudsman.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit talks pick up pace once more
  2. MEPs back US trade detente
  3. Iran diplomat to stand trial in Belgium over 'France bomb plot'
  4. Trump says he'll leave if Biden wins Electoral College vote
  5. EU Parliament: Polish abortion ban risks womens' lives
  6. UN experts warn against racial profiling
  7. EU auditors raise red flag over maritime protection
  8. Four students charged in France's beheading case

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. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  2. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  4. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector

Latest News

  1. Erdoğan jails hundreds for life, as EU weighs relations
  2. Italian energy giant director advising EU foreign policy chief
  3. Poland and Hungary say rule-of-law link needs treaty change
  4. Portuguese presidency to focus on social rights and India
  5. The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE
  6. Poland hammered on women's rights in EU debate
  7. EU 'front-line' states want clearer migration rules
  8. Von der Leyen tells Poland and Hungary to go to court

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us