Tuesday

2nd Jun 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.

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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.

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