10th Apr 2020

Zahradil 'conflict of interest' probe may flounder

  • The European Parliament in Strasbourg. Czech MEP and former Spitzenkandidat for the ECR, Jan Zahradil, had links to a Vietnamese group while spearheading the EU-Vietnam trade talks (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament has been asked to launch an ethics probe against a Czech MEP following an article published by this website.

But in reality, nothing is likely to happen. Out of the over two dozen cases of violations committed by MEPs over the past few years, not one has ever led to a sanction.

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The Greens on Monday (9 December) asked the president of the European Parliament to look into possible conflicts of interest by Jan Zahradil, a right-wing MEP spearheading trade talks with Vietnam.

Similar demands were made last year after this website untangled a network of lobbying between a handful of MEPs and the Moroccan government on an EU trade deal.

Although the French liberal MEP leading talks on the Moroccan deal at the time eventually resigned as a rapporteur, the EU parliament probe into conflicts of interest remains locked and sealed from public view.

An advisory committee on the code of conduct was tasked at the time to look into French socialist Gilles Pargneaux, French liberal Patricia Lalonde, Romanian centre-right Romona Manescu, and Belgian liberal Frederique Ries.

All four had been implicated in the Morocco lobbying affair through EuroMeda, a foundation that was in reality fronting for the Moroccan government.

The parliament's president spokesperson services never responded to EUobserver questions on the results of that inquiry.

A subsequent freedom of information request into the inquiry was also denied by the European Parliament's secretary general, Klaus Welle.

Welle in September said the findings must remain secret, citing legal provisions that any such disclosure would "seriously undermine the institution's decision-making process".

He said no "overriding public interest" had been demonstrated to make the findings public. Ries is currently the vice-chair of the liberal Renew Europe group.

Over the past six years, some two dozen breaches of the European Parliament's code of conduct have been cited and referred to the advisory committee.

Not one breach has ever led to a sanction, according to Transparency International, an NGO. It says such results are unsurprising given the advisory committee is itself composed of MEPs.

"Having political figures taking decisions on ethics has unsurprisingly led to no sanctions," said Vitor Teixeira, a policy officer at Transparency International.

Daniel Freund, a German Green MEP, is among the growing chorus of people pressing for changes and earlier this year demanded the European Commission launch an independent ethics body to help put an end to the lack of accountability.

"People can basically do whatever they want and they don't get sanctions and it is not like taking away one daily allowance from an MEP, €320, is going end their life but even that we have never done," he said.

Prior to his position as MEP, Freund worked at Transparency International and had helped uncover the toothless role of the advisory committee.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has since folded the ethics body idea into her agenda, and delegated the task to the transparency commissioner Vera Jourova. No official proposal has so far been floated.

Freund has made it a point with the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee (Afco) to possibly draw up an own proposal first.

"Ultimately the whole system where MEPs judge other MEPs is a flawed a system and it would be better to have an independent body," he said.

Afco is chaired by Antonio Tajani, who sat as the European Parliament's president in the past mandate and whose spokersperson at the time ignored questions by this website into the the code of conduct probes.

As president, Tajani was tasked to decide and act on sanctions by MEPs who violated the code conduct, following recommendations by the advisory committee.

The advisory committee is composed of centre-right Danuta Hubner, socialist Guiliano Pisapia, liberal Renew Karen Melchior, Greens, Heidi Hautala, and conservative ECR Geert Bourgeois.

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MEPs ultimately adopted a controversial report on an EU trade deal with Morocco - despite the sudden resignation by French liberal Patricia Lalonde as the file's rapporteur only moments beforehand. Her departure follows an EUobserver investigation into lobbying by Morocco.


Exposed: How Morocco lobbies EU for its Western Sahara claim

The European parliament's lead negotiator on the Morocco trade deal, French liberal MEP Patricia Lalonde, is also on the EuroMedA Foundation board along with former Moroccan state ministers and a top ranking official in Morocco's ministry of agriculture.


Zahradil 'conflict of interest' over EU-Vietnam trade deal

Right-wing Czech MEP Jan Zahradil is leading European Parliament negotiations on a trade deal with Vietnam. As rapporteur, he is supposed to be neutral but has neglected to declare his involvement in a group with ties to the Communist party.


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Former EUobserver investigations editor Peter Teffer has written a new book about how lobbying in the EU works. The EU's focus on the internal market offers corporate lobbyists a perfect means to forward their interests.

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